In Michigan, effective at 12:01 AM on Tuesday, March 24, all non-essential businesses statewide will be closed. Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the “Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order to temporarily suspend in-person operations that are not necessary to sustain or protect life for at least the next three weeks.
At Square Roots we have a moral obligation to use the resources we have—skilled farmers and our farm-tech platform—to keep growing food, and to find ways to get that food to as many people as possible. But we obviously have to do that with the safety of people (our team and the wider community) as a priority, and specifically, we need to operate in line with the executive order.
As an agriculture and food production business growing crops for human consumption, certain Square Roots employees are designated as “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” by the US Department of Homeland Security as well as the Michigan State executive order. This designation allows those employees to move freely in order to get to work and perform our essential duties—growing food and distributing that food to people who need it.
Specifically, that means our Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers have a responsibility to “continue work during periods of community restriction, access management, social distancing, or closure orders/directives” since this is “crucial to community resilience and continuity of essential functions.” All Square Roots essential employees have been issued with emergency identification (physical and digital) that explains this designation. This ID will be willingly shown to any law enforcement officer if requested.
Per the executive order, businesses maintaining in-person activities must adopt social distancing practices and other mitigation measures to protect workers and patrons. Specifically:
5.c.1. Restricting the number of workers present on premises to no more than is strictly necessary to perform the business’s or operation’s critical infrastructure functions.
Last week, based on recommendations from the CDC, the State of Michigan, and our local partner Gordon Food Service, Square Roots moved into “Level 2 Operations” at our Grand Rapids, Michigan farm. "Level 2" for us means we are now running our farm with a much smaller “Designated Team” that is only strictly necessary for essential operations.
5.c.2. Promoting remote work to the fullest extent possible.
Any farmers or support staff not absolutely required for “Level 2 Operations” have been asked to stay at home on full pay.
5.c.3. Keeping workers and patrons who are on premises at least six feet from one another to the maximum extent possible, including for customers who are standing in line.
The logic behind “Level 2 Operations” is simple and sound. Fewer people in the farms means more physical space per person, which has allowed us to re-engineer our farming processes to ensure social distancing (i.e. no-one does any work within 6ft of another person). This ensures the farm is a safe place to work, and we can grow food for people who need it, even if the process is now less efficient and our capacity will be somewhat reduced.
5.c.4. Increasing standards of facility cleaning and disinfection to limit worker and patron exposure to COVID-19, as well as adopting protocols to clean and disinfect in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in the workplace.
Our usual operations already put food-safety and people-safety first and include rigorous sanitation practices. Now, if a Designated Team Member goes home due to high temperatures and/or respiratory symptoms, all surfaces will be sanitized immediately before any work begins. Meanwhile, a joint working group of large food and beverage associations, including United Fresh, and in conjunction with the FDA, have developed guidance on actions to take if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. We are following those guidelines to the letter. Well-run indoor farms like Square Roots bring heightened safety to food production and distribution, and the steps we’ve taken make our operations even safer.
5.c.5. Adopting policies to prevent workers from entering the premises if they display respiratory symptoms or have had contact with a person who is known or suspected to have COVID-19.
We developed a Coronavirus Safety Framework several weeks ago and, since then, any employee who has felt sick in any way has been directed to stay home, on full pay. In addition, every Designated Team member has their temperature taken with an infrared thermometer daily upon arrival to work. Anyone with an elevated temperature must go home immediately.
5.c.6 Any other social distancing practices and mitigation measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
We are closely following CDC and FDA guidelines for COVID-19 safety, and have taken additional precautions above and beyond recommended procedures. Square Roots is not holding any in-person farm tours or other events, internal or external for the foreseeable future. And, all our employees have been advised to adhere to state guidance around not attending all public and private gatherings. In addition, through our membership of the CEA Food Safety Coalition, we are monitoring announcements from the scientific community, who have found no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through food.
We plan to continue operating our farms through this pandemic, in line with Governor Whitmer’s executive order, to bring as much food to as many people as possible, while maintaining safety for the community as a top priority.
Obviously, this situation is very fluid, and we are constantly assessing information to make the best decisions in line with our mission of “bringing local, real food to people in cities around the world by empowering next-gen leaders in urban farming.” If anything changes, as the full extent of the pandemic unfolds, we will do our best to provide transparency and clarity on this blog and through our social channels. But please feel free to email me directly if you have any questions or additional thoughts. ([email protected])
Square Roots CEO