Franklin Farm opens with safety protocols in place

Franklin Farm opens with safety protocols in place

Mike Chenevert, left, president of Swissline Precision LLC in Cumberland, has donated $10,000 to Franklin Farm on behalf of his company to help support local families during these desperate times, he said. He’s pictured with Pam Thurlow, president of the The Historic Metcalf Franklin Farm Preservation Association. Rob Mudge, vice president of the Franklin Farm Association, said the donation has covered all costs for the farm this spring, so organizers are considering starting a matching challenge where they will match all donations to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank up to $10,000. Swissline Precision also donated an additional $15,000 to the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry.

CUMBERLAND – After several weeks of doubt about whether they would be allowed to open for the season, organizers of Franklin Farm in Cumberland, who are getting ready to start planting by the end of the month, have announced that there are new guidelines for volunteers. “We’re excited that this year is going to happen,” Rob Mudge, vice president of the The Historic Metcalf Franklin Farm Preservation Association, told The Breeze. “It was touch-and-go for a little while there for sure, and like so many other things, there was a time when we thought it was just going to all get canceled.” Part of the farm’s mission is to grow and donate fresh vegetables to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and soup kitchens and food pantries in northern Rhode Island, and volunteers typically help with tasks such as planting, harvesting, and transporting produce.

“I’m very happy with how things are moving forward,” said Pam Thurlow, president of the association. “We just want to keep an eye on everybody’s safety and follow all the guidelines.”

To open, they must follow guidelines set forth by the Rhode Island Department of Health, she said. They’ve written detailed protocols for their operations, including planting, harvesting, and shipping, which have been approved by RIDOH and town officials.

Weather permitting, they plan to start planting at the end of the month, which only sets them about a week behind schedule and is a result of all the rain in recent weeks, Thurlow said.

One disappointment, she said, is that under the current circumstances, the farm’s vegetable stand, which runs on an honor system, will not be opening.

Mudge said they are currently working on ways to reformat their youth summer programs so they can continue this year. More details will be made available in the coming weeks.

Per the new protocols, all volunteers to the farm must wear masks/face coverings, bring their own gardening gloves, and maintain social distancing both in the parking lot and the fields, Thurlow said. If anyone wishing to volunteer is ill or not feeling well, they are asked not to come.

After checking in, folks must wash their hands in new hand-washing stations in the barn area. A hot water heater was expected to be installed this week to provide hot potable water for washing, organizers said, following guidelines from DOH.

Unlike in past years where anyone could show up on a Monday or Thursday night to help out, volunteers must sign up for a time slot ahead of time on the organization’s website, so organizers can cap the number of folks on the farm at one time.

Details are still being worked out, but additional days and times may be available so they can have more frequent smaller groups, Thurlow said.

They are still figuring out the maximum number of association members and volunteers that can be on the farm while abiding by social distancing rules, Mudge said. Volunteers will be assigned to a work group, which is capped at five for now, according to current social distancing guidelines, but with 65 acres, there is room to spread out on the farm, Thurlow noted.

Both Thurlow and Mudge noted that procedures can be tweaked as needed. “Everything is common sense,” Thurlow said. “It’s amazing how … we’re all adjusting so quickly.”

When food gets delivered to food pantries, the boxes will have stickers on them reminding people to wash all produce before consuming, Thurlow said. Organizers will be keeping up to date on any new developments and will act accordingly to keep everybody safe and healthy, she said.

Given increasing food insecurity this year, as a result of the global pandemic and resulting economic crisis, organizers say they’re thrilled to be allowed to open to fulfill the mission of the farm. Mudge also pointed out there are students who rely on their schools for two-thirds of their meals, saying people need as much help if not more than they ever did this year.

“It’s amazing when you learn about how many people need food assistance,” Thurlow said. “We want to do all we can.” The farm is always looking for more volunteers. “This is a safe, good thing you can do to help other people” and get outside after being cooped up in your house, Mudge said. “We need people that share this vision to come and help us.”

For more information, visit www.franklinfarmri.org .