We know that the spread of COVID-19 is bringing a lot of fear to our communities and interrupting sales during a vulnerable time of year. Things are changing rapidly, and we are here to support farms and other Local Hero businesses. The resources below are those we have found to be most useful for Massachusetts businesses; we will add to this page as we discover new information. Please note that CISA is not a public health agency — we won’t dispense our own recommendations about slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19, though we can refer you to guidance from regulators and public health experts.
Contact CISA for support and promotion
Local Hero farmers and business owners, we want to hear from you! How is this affecting you, your employees, your sales? What sort of support do you need? Are you making changes to your business that we can help promote? If your business has developed a new sales outlet, (including online ordering and new delivery sites), or has closed, please let us know as we are sharing that information with the public here. Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the office at 413-665-7100. Staff is working remotely but will receive phone messages.
General resources for farms and food businesses
CISA guide to implementing workplace safety standards
All MA businesses are required to implement new mandatory workplace safety standards during the pandemic. Use this guide to help ensure that you are adhering to applicable standards and following best practices for workplace safety. If you would like to walk through this checklist with CISA staff and discuss specific considerations and decisions related to your farm’s workplace safety practices, please contact Kristen by email (preferred) or phone at (413) 665-7100, ext. 12. (last updated 5/22/20)
CISA tipsheet for farm stands and farm stores: best practices
A helpful guide that provides steps on how to implement the mandates and recommendations for farm stands and farm stores from the MA DPH and MDAR. Use this checklist to go through and implement the items that are required of you and are best for your farm’s customer and staff safety. If you would like to walk through specific design and implementation for your farm stand or farm store, please reach out to Stevie by email or phone at 413-665-7100, ext. 24. (last updated 5/19/20)
General business guidance and workplace safety requirements from Governor Baker
Information to help businesses meet the self-certification requirement to reopen or continue operation after May 25, 2020. All businesses must meet these requirements to operate in MA. (issued 5/18/20)
General guidance for businesses and workplaces from the CDC
Guidance for businesses regarding employee management, cleaning, worker safety, and more.
Grocery store order and follow-up guidance from MA DPH
These two links – the executive order governing operations for grocery stores issued March 25th, and follow-up guidance issued April 7th – describe the required safety measures that grocery stores must implement to remain in operation as an essential service.
Livestock guidance from MDAR
This memo from MDAR indicates that there is currently no evidence that domestic animals can get or transmit COVID-19. (issued 3/23/20)
Nursery, greenhouse, garden center, and ag supply store guidance from MA DPH
MA nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers, and agriculture supply stores that sell food or food producing plants for human consumption are currently allowed to continue to operate brick and mortar premises, as long as they comply with the guidelines outlined in this document. Note that those operations that sells solely plants that do not produce food for human consumption shall remain closed. (issued 4/4/20)
PYO and agritourism guidance from MDAR
This guidance from MDAR for discusses steps for opening PYO operations in compliance with CDC guidelines for protecting consumer and worker safety. Note that other agritourism activities are not currently considered essential activities that are permitted on farms. (issued 5/4/20)
Selling online – farmer’s guide to direct sales software platforms
This page from the National Young Farmers Coalition lists online direct sales platforms, along with key features and pricing information.
Sources of PPE and hygienic supplies
CISA is updating this Google doc with the places one can find PPE, disinfectants, and hand sanitizer. We recommend ordering supplies ASAP, as it can take several weeks for materials to be delivered.
Strategy checklist for food facilities from the Cornell Institute for Food Safety
This document from Cornell’s Institute for Food Safety outlines a draft checklist on COVID-19 risk management strategy implementation for food companies. This is a guide only and any given business is strongly encouraged to modify this to fit their situation and circumstances.
Wearing masks and face coverings: guidance from MA DPH and from the FDA
It is currently mandatory for all employees and customers at MA businesses to wear face coverings. MA DPH guidance provides information proper usage as well as a list of helpful FAQs. FDA guidance provides information on wearing respirators, disposable face masks, and cloth face coverings by workers in the food and agricultural sector.
COVID-19 testing for those working on farms
The Big E in West Springfield is now providing free testing for COVID-19 to anyone working on a farm. Testing is done Monday through Friday 8am to 4pm and Saturday 8am to 12pm.
To get a test, you or your employees must make an appointment by calling the Call Center at 855-563-7510 and answering the following questions: person’s name, address, phone number, email, date of birth, and employer.
When people arrive for their appointment at the Big E testing site, they must be in a vehicle. They will need some type of identification that at a minimum has their name on it such as a birth certificate, passport, drivers’ license, Work ID, library card, or a bill such as utility, phone, etc. At the testing site, each person being tested will be given information on how to access results online or on the phone.
If a farm has a suspected outbreak and needs 10 or more people tested, the Call Center has requested that CISA coordinate testing. Call CISA’s COVID-19 testing hotline at 413-551-2640. CISA staff will walk you through the steps and arrange with the Call Center for appointments. Any questions, call the hotline and a CISA staff person will call you back.
Economic assistance resources
CISA’s Emergency Farm Fund loans
The Emergency Farm Fund has been reopened to accept applications from farms in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties that have been affected by COVID-19. The Franklin County CDC, the Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund (PVGIF), and CISA are partnering to offer zero-interest loans up to $25,000. If your farm has gross annual sales for 2019 that were $20,000 or more and has experienced income loss due to COVID-19, you are eligible to apply. The first application deadline was April 13, 2020; the second round of applications will open on June 1, 2020.
Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)
The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) is administering CFAP, which will provide $16 billion in direct payments to farms suffering COVID-19 losses. Not all local farms with COVID-19 losses are eligible for payments — maple, honey, nursery, and poultry producers are currently excluded, for example — and farms must have significant amounts of unsold products due to COVID-19 in order to benefit from payments. To see if your farm is among the farms that can benefit from CFAP payments, review program details at this link, contact your local FSA office to apply, or contact CISA staff for help navigating program basics.
Economic Injury Disaster (EID) Loans & Grants
The SBA is currently accepting applications from farms only – apply right away to access limited funds. These low-interest working capital loans of up to $2 million are available to help small businesses meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations through the disaster recovery period. Importantly, applicants can receive up to $10,000 – in an amount equal to $1,000 per employee who was on payroll 1/31/20 – in an emergency grant (aka “loan advance”) that can be spent on paid leave, maintaining payroll, increased costs due to supply chain disruption, mortgage or lease payments, or repaying obligations that cannot be met due to revenue loss. See more information here and click here to apply. Assistance in applying for EID funds is available through the Franklin County CDC, SCORE, and other local organizations.
Employee Retention Credits (ERC) – fully refundable tax credits
Like the Paycheck Protection Program (described above), this program is funded by the federal CARES Act to help employers keep their workers on payroll. Note, however, that getting a PPP loan makes the borrower ineligible for the ERC, so businesses should assess which of these programs will better meet their needs. The ERC offers a “fully refundable” tax credit for eligible employers that equals 50% of qualified wages (up to $10,000 per employee) that are paid from 3/13/20 to 12/31/20; the maximum credit an employer can receive per employee is thus $5,000. Businesses are eligible to take this credit beginning in any quarter in which their gross receipts are reduced by at least 50% compared to 2019 levels, OR during any quarter in which they are compelled to fully or partially suspend operations due to a government order. The credit is taken on the employer portion of social security taxes, but if the credit is greater than social security taxes owed, the remaining amount will be paid (aka “fully refunded”) to employers. See this link for key additional details on this credit.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Those who are self-employed (including farmers and other business owners) are newly eligible to claim unemployment under the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Owners can request partial or full unemployment compensation, and claims can be retroactive starting February 2, 2020. See more information on this CISA tipsheet on COVID-related expansions to unemployment compensation, and you can apply for PUA here.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans
If you are interested in applying to the PPP, please do so immediately before funds run out. Under the federal CARES Act, farms and other businesses (including non-profits) can qualify for fully or partially forgivable PPP loans to fund payroll for workers and owners. The loan amount you are eligible for is capped at 2.5 times your average monthly payroll cost. The loan has a 1% interest rate and matures in two years, with loan payments deferred for six months. Loan money will be fully forgiven that is spent within eight weeks of receiving loan funds, provided that 1) 75-100% is spent on payroll, with the rest spent on mortgage interest, rent, or utilities, AND 2) you maintain your employee numbers and salary levels at or near 2019 levels during the eight weeks after loan origination. Note that the payroll costs for any individual whose principal place of residence is outside of the United States – like workers on H-2A and J-1 visas – are specifically excluded from PPP. Additionally, know that getting a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program makes the borrower ineligible for the related Employee Retention Tax Credit (described below), so businesses should assess which of these programs will better meet their needs before applying.
Relief provisions of the CARES Act
The federal CARES Act contains many provisions that impact local businesses. Three of the most significant provisions impacting farms and other local businesses are described above – the Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Employee Retention Credits, and Paycheck Protection Program. However, there are a range of other CARES Act provisions that also may provide some economic relief to local farms and other businesses. This page describes several other key CARES Act provisions, and will be updated as we get additional information.
Support for improving food access in low-income areas: MA Food Trust Program
This program provides loans, grants, and business assistance for increasing access to healthy, affordable food in low-income, underserved areas. Grants typically are given to support businesses receiving loans through the Food Trust, though at present businesses that have not received a loan may also apply for a grant if they can demonstrate that it will significantly improve their ability to provide healthy food to low-income communities.
Support for non-profits: MA COVID-19 Relief Fund
This fund will provide funding to non-profit organizations to support those across the state most impacted by this health crisis, including immigrants and undocumented residents, those facing food insecurity, and others.
Support for restaurant and service workers: One Fair Wage support fund
This campaign is providing cash assistance to restaurant workers, delivery workers, and more who need emergency funds.
CISA tipsheet on grants and financing opportunities for farms
This page provides a comprehensive list of the grant and financing opportunities for farms that do not specifically relate to the current public health crisis. Many MDAR grants are currently open for applications – contact Kristen at CISA if you would like help understanding or applying for any of these grants. (updated regularly)
Employee management resources
CISA tipsheet on expanded employee leave benefits during the pandemic
This CISA tipsheet discusses laws on employee leave that apply to Massachusetts employers, including details on the new federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which temporarily provides employees with federally funded paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for COVID-19-related reasons during the period from April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. (last updated 4/13/20)
CISA tipsheet on expanded unemployment benefits during the pandemic
This CISA tipsheet discusses laws on unemployment insurance that apply to Massachusetts employers, including details on new state and federal regulations that expand access to unemployment compensation for employees who are laid off, have their hours reduced, or are unable to work due to COVID-19. Note that those who are self-employed (i.e. farm/business owners themselves) are also newly eligible to claim unemployment. (last updated 5/11/20)
Guidance on farm labor management for fruit and vegetable growers from MDAR
This guidance outlines best practices to maintain the health and safety of farm employees and reduce the impact of COVID-19 related illnesses on MA farms. (issued 5/22/20)
Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 from OSHA
These recommendations from OSHA are advisory in nature (they don’t create any new legal obligations) and they may provide helpful guidance to assist you in providing a safe and healthful workplace.
Guidance related to COVID-19 confirmed positive or exposed workers from the FDA
This guidance, based on CDC recommendations, outlines key steps that employers and workers can take to help stay open, prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19, and support continuity of essential operations if workers are diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, or show symptoms associated with COVID-19.
Guidance related to essential workers exposed to COVID-19 from the CDC
In this guidance, CDC advises that essential workers (such as many farm and food workers) may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community. This guidance details recommended safety measures for employers to implement in these cases.
H-2A workers: U.S. Department of Labor’s FAQ page on housing alternatives
The second question on this FAQ page discusses options for using temporary alternative housing for H-2A workers (i.e. housing that was not initially disclosed in the H-2A job order) to promote social distancing and slow the spread of the virus within the community or during a quarantine period. (issued 4/9/20)
H-2A workers: USDA’s page with updates on H-2A Visas
The USDA is sharing the latest updates and resources related to COVID-19 and the H-2A Visa Program here. This page includes information on embassy status in Jamaica and other H-2A sending countries, as well as links to information about workers in the U.S. on soon-to-expire H-2A contracts (who may be available for hire). We are being told that H-2A workers scheduled to arrive this spring in our region will likely be arriving one to three weeks later than expected due to embassy closures.
Letter to certify farm vehicles and suppliers as essential travelers
This letter template from MDAR can be used (and modified as needed) to certify that vehicles transporting food and agricultural supplies are designated as critical infrastructure, and/or that employees are traveling to perform essential services. Note, however, that as of 3/25/20, state and local police departments have not been directed to do any traffic stops to limit non-essential travel, nor are letters such as these being required from employers.
Farmers' market resources
CISA’s Checklist of logistical best practices for market managers
All of MDAR’s recommendations for farmers’ markets, along with steps on how you can implement them at your market. Your market’s board of health has ultimate say over what your market will be required to do. Use this checklist to go through and implement the items that are required of you. Covers everything from vendor communication, to handling wooden tokens, and more. If you would like a customized version for your market to share with your customers or vendors, reach out to Zoey. (last updated 4/22/20)
Farm Credit East grant program for farmers’ markets
Farm Credit East will be providing $1,000 grants to New England farmers’ markets for “market enhancements, marketing efforts and/or programs to support disadvantaged communities or improve access to fresh, local food.” Apply by June 8.
Farmers’ market guidance from MDAR
Full list of MDAR’s recommendations of best practices for farmers’ markets and other local produce retail sites to limit the spread of COVID-19. (issued 3/26/20)
Farmers’ market order from the MA DPH
This order confirms that farmers’ markets, farm stands, and CSAs may remain open as “essential services” and details guidelines that all farmers’ markets in the state must follow. (issued 4/27/20)
Guidance for market managers from Mass Farmers Markets
Guidance on handling tokens, asserting welcoming values, policies for vendors, displays, and more. (last updated 4/7/20)
How to set up a hand washing station at a farmers’ market
How to set up a portable, relatively low-cost hand washing station. Please note, if your board of health is requiring your market to have a hand washing station, you should discuss with your local town government the possibility of them paying the fee for renting a portable hand washing station.
Resources from the Farmers’ Market Coalition
Market operators are developing communications, preparing contingency plans, and in some regions, beginning to modify operations and considering closures. This is a compilation of information and advice from farmers’ markets, state associations, health departments, and the Centers for Disease Control around the country. Note that much of the information is from other states and is not specific (or necessarily applicable) to Massachusetts.
Sample email newsletter for your market
Compiled by CISA: guidance on what to send to your email list so they can be aware of what the market is doing. Contains the major points to include in your communication, as well as sample text.
Sample social media posts for your market
Compiled by CISA: topics and sample text that you can use to update the public about your market. You don’t need to have everything completely set to start updating your customers what the market is doing; the important thing is transparency and open communication with your community.
Writing a press release for your market
Compiled by CISA: guidance on what to include in a press release for your market, and when to send one to your local paper.
Food safety & sanitation resources
Cleaning and disinfecting – guidance from the CDC
CDC’s guidance on how to clean & disinfect various surfaces for coronavirus. Provides good bleach dilution recommendations.
Cleaning and sanitizing for fruit and vegetable growers – guidance from MDAR
Discusses the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, and what products to use. (issued 4/17/20)
Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting for produce farms – guidance from UVM
An excellent, practical guide to how to properly use products to clean, sanitize, and disinfect surfaces on farms to mitigate COVID-19 and food safety risks on farms.
Cornell Institute for Food Safety’s COVID-19 FAQs for the food industry
This page from the Cornell Institute for Food Safety includes answers to a wide range of FAQs related to farms and food businesses, including: whether COVID-19 can be transmitted through the food we produce, what to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, and much more.
FDA’s guidance on food safety and COVID-19
This page answers several frequently asked questions about food handling considerations related to COVID-19 spread.
General information about COVID-19
CDC’s COVID-19 website
General information on COVID-19 symptoms, cases, and best practices for all audiences.
CDC’s frequently asked questions page
Up-to-date answers to questions about COVID-19, how it spreads, and how to protect yourself.
COVID-19 FAQs for the consumer
This page from the Cornell Institute for Food Safety includes answers to a wide range of FAQs your customers may have related to food safety in the age of COVID-19, such as: how fresh produce should be be washed, whether different types of food pose more or less risk, whether extra precautions should be taken during home food preparation, and more.
Food safety and the coronavirus: a comprehensive guide
This is a helpful video by chef and journalist Kenji Lopez-Alt that discusses fact-checked answers to common FAQs surrounding food safety and COVID-19. See also this accompanying article, which includes a thorough list of FAQs that the author plans to update as new information becomes available.
Resource lists from partner organizations
Commonwealth Kitchen’s Guide to running a food business in the face of COVID-19
Compilation of resources available for HR, financial, and other aspects of your business that are impacted by COVID-19. Being continuously updated by the Commonwealth Kitchen.
MA Food System Collaborative’s list of resources
A frequently updated resource list from the MA Food System Collaborative that includes guidance and recommendations for farmers, market managers, and business owners, as well as information on local and national policy/advocacy efforts.
MDAR’s list of COVID-19 resources for agriculture
MDAR has compiled a list of guidance and resources to keep our agricultural community informed and aware of relevant policies and best practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MIRA Coalition’s resources on protecting families and communities
This page includes public health resources in multiple languages that can be shared with immigrant and refugee families; relevant information on immigration policy and enforcement; and other valuable resources, including details on key programs that sick or displaced workers may need.
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s resources for farm and food businesses
This Google doc has a compilation of resources related to the novel coronavirus, including general resources about the evolving health crisis, a list of online ordering platforms, and more.