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Co-op carries on

Continuing to serve during the COVID-19 crisis
Story and photos by: Glen Liford 4/24/2020


Customers at Anderson Farmers Cooperative in Clinton on Saturday, April 5, did their best to practice social distancing while shopping for vital supplies. Agriculture and supporting businesses like Co-op were among those deemed essential by the United States Department of Homeland Security.
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Editor’s Note: This article was written with the best information available as of April 13 when it went to print. As things are changing quickly during this COVID-19 situation, we encourage you to check for updates on your Co-op’s social media platforms.

In spite of the uncertainty and fast-moving changes surrounding this spring’s coronavirus pandemic, Co-ops remain open to serve farmers, customers, and communities.

“Unlike many businesses, it’s simply not an option to shutdown agriculture,” said Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Chief Executive Officer Bart Krisle in a message to member Co-op managers in a March 18 message. “Farmers have animals to feed and crops to plant, and these activities require a reliable source of quality products and dependable services on a timely basis. Our world depends on the products our farmers produce. We understand Co-op plays a critical role in their operations, and we are committed to continuing to provide for their needs.”

Government officials were quick to

recognize this important role, as well. On Friday, March 20, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced their determination that agriculture and the support services required to keep it going were considered “essential.”

Co-ops and their dedicated employees remain committed to working tirelessly during the busy spring season, which is now complicated by fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus. Co-op employees have stepped up their safety measures on the job, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for practices such as washing hands frequently, avoiding touching the face, coughing into the crook of their arm or tissue that is immediately disposed, and social distancing or maintaining a six-foot distance between all persons, while those employees who are sick or are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 are required to stay home.

Co-ops have also altered operating practices to better safeguard customers and employees. Many are offering enhanced services such as allowing call-in orders and providing curbside or dock pickup.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure our customers feel safe when they come in,” says Jeremy Horne, manager of Anderson Farmers Co-op in Clinton. “We have marked spots on the floor to reinforce social distancing guidelines, and we have hung plastic curtains around the sales counter areas to provide an extra barrier.”

Mark Pettit, manager of Jefferson Farmers Cooperative in Dandridge, says many customers are taking advantage of the alternative delivery methods.

“This [situation] is changing everything we are doing,” he says.

In areas hit hardest by the outbreak, some Co-op stores have chosen to limit customer access to their showrooms or closed them to walk-in trade entirely while remaining open for alternative delivery methods.

As the COVID-19 situation escalated through early April, Co-op officials recommended customers call local stores or check social media for updates before venturing out.

The rapidly changing crisis led many

Co-ops to rely on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to get out their messages regarding their response to COVID-19 and changes in operating hours and practices, says Phil Farmer, TFC chief marketing officer.

“Social media has played a vital role and continues to be an invaluable way for Co-ops to communicate with and connect with customers during this unusual time,” he says. “It offers customers immediate access to information as conditions change. I would encourage all customers to follow and like their local Co-op’s pages, as well as the pages for Co-op Agronomy, Co-op Livestock, and Co-op Rural Lifestyle groups. They should also check their local Co-op’s website for updated information.”

“Spring is a demanding time for Co-op customers and employees,” says Mike Clayton, First Farmers Cooperative marketing manager. “It’s also a critical period in the cycle of farming. We’ve used our social media efforts to keep them informed and connected to the Co-op.”

How and when the quarantine ends is uncertain as this issue of The Cooperator goes to print, but Co-op officials want to assure all customers that Co-ops recognize the vital role their cooperatives play. 

“Our farmers are resilient,” says Clayton. “While this is an unprecedented event, we are confident we will get through it.”

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