At Happy Dirt we have been working for 16 years to develop a more regionalized and resilient food system. When COVID-19 swept through the U.S., our work didn’t slow down. It has been crucial that we continue to not only support and advocate for our farmers, but also to educate consumers about the importance of local and regional food systems and a decentralized approach to supply chains and food security.
Pivoting from away-from-home to stay-at-home.
As stay-at-home orders took effect, most Americans had to shift the way we consumed food. Tim Griffin, Associate Professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tuft University, said, “Before, roughly half the food spending in the U.S. was what we call away from home—restaurants, the cafe near work, those types of venues. That number is a lot smaller now, which means people are having to buy food and make it at home.”
With more people at home, there are more people researching where they can source fresh food, and more people interested in fostering connections with good food producers. From experimenting with new foods to growing gardens and sharing starter yeast with neighbors, we hope that this renewed interest in and appreciation for a regional food economy and the hard workers who make it possible can have a long-term impact on Americans!
Although the increase in opportunity for regional farms and food producers to supply their communities is significant, challenges also persist. Staying committed to being thoughtful and careful has been critical to our work.
Safely and carefully shifting from one demand to another.
At Happy Dirt, although the restaurant closures caused us to miss all the creative and loyal chefs we partner with, keeping up with the grocery demand was quite an undertaking. Our priorities consisted of keeping our team healthy and supported; keeping our farmers and supply chain healthy and supported; and participating in serving the community as much as possible.
We have been incredibly humbled by our ability to continue to support farmers and provide critical, healthy food to our customers and their customers. Fragile times like these remind us why we have been working to develop more regionalized food systems all along. Fortunately, we already have a culture of food safety, employee engagement, and incredible teamwork in place. The COVID-19 crisis sent us digging deeply into all of these principles and practices, while adding several new precautions and support measures to address these challenging times. Everything we have done, and will continue to do, is focused on keeping our team, customers, and farmers safe while maintaining the flow of healthy, fresh food from farms to the people!
How we took precaution with an increased demand for fresh produce.
Happy Dirt doubled-down on the safety of our essential “in-house” staff members by keeping all non-essential in-house staff out of the warehouse and prohibiting visitors of any kind. All recent travelers were asked to quarantine at home and paid-sick or precautionary-sick leave was deemed unlimited as needed. Cleaning measures were adjusted to tackle the new threat, all staff were provided with PPE immediately, and temperature checks were enforced when clocking in. We developed a shift rotation so if someone should get sick, we would have an entire “back-up” team working from home who could relieve the primary pack team.
Fostering a culture of wellness and encouragement.
A culture of wellness is also of critical importance to us and that’s no different in times of crisis. Happy Dirt began having regular “all hands” calls to stay connected and share information. Hazard Pay has been paid as a stipend to all in-house staff rather than an hourly increase, because we believe firmly that safety and teamwork are an around-the-clock commitment. Should someone contract COVID-19, we believe that the business should reimburse any medical bills incurred by in-house staff beyond what insurance covers. We launched a weekly Staff Box Club to provide all team members with healthy food in order to minimize trips to a grocery store. We developed a Mental Health Services Road Map so all employees can have easy access to a list of mental health providers who offer virtual services with immediate availability. In addition, we offered to reimburse copays for mental health counseling.
But, perhaps the most important measure is our constant encouragement to all team members to share their ideas, questions, and concerns. We believe in collaboration and cooperation, now more than ever, and we know the strength of this business lies within the strength of our team.
We cannot thank you all enough for your support for our farmers and their produce, for your consideration and appreciation for our amazing staff members, and for the honor of being your produce supplier.