Local Ag farms optimistic as farmworkers receive COVID-19 vaccinations

Posted at 7:20 AM, Mar 25, 2021

WILDER, Idaho — Some Treasure Valley farms are optimistic as efforts continue to ensure farmworkers have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. It follows a year of adjustments and adaptations to keep employees safe and prevent interruptions to the food supply.

Terry Reilly Health Services hosted a vaccination clinic in Wilder at Red Top Market, administering more than 250 vaccine doses to local and H-2A farmworkers from cities across the region including Marsing, Parma, Homedale, and New Plymouth.

Agricultural employers say things are looking up after a challenging year.

“Generally in Ag, the markets were really topsy-turvy last year where we saw dairy producers dumping milk, and all of sudden there’s a shortage of milk. The markets were really unstable,” said Diane Gooding, Vice President of Gooding Farms and co-owner of Red Top Market. “We’re looking forward to a more stable market which means more stable job opportunities and activities around the farm because we can plan better.”

Gooding said between 65 to 75 percent of their employees opted to get vaccinated. Gooding said they implemented social distancing and safety policies at the start of the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among its employees.

Some of the new policies included distributing hand sanitizers.

“We got through the season and we didn’t lose anybody or have a huge loss of production. Call it lucky but we’re really thankful that we made it through,” Gooding said.

About 11 Ag employers participated in the vaccination clinic. Teunissen Dairy in New Plymouth said a majority of its employees also signed up to get vaccinated.

Brooke Teunissen maintains the dairy's office and employee management services and said they saw their first case of COVID-19 among one of its employees six months after the pandemic hit. She said following safety protocols prevented them from seeing more cases.

“We didn’t have many interruptions with employees getting sick. I think that’s due to what we did to help diminish that cause to have coronavirus in our dairy by social distancing and wearing masks,” Teunissen said.

Vaccinations are part of that on-going effort as we head into a new season. Teunissen said the pandemic highlighted how important the Ag workforce is.

“I think it kind of gave this whole broader perspective to everybody that we can’t survive without agricultural workers. They help with our bread and butter that we put on our table. I think it definitely helped people realize our food comes from somewhere and those people are still working every single day to make sure that they can be supplied,” she said.

Araceli Perez, a farmworker in Wilder, told Idaho News 6 in Spanish that getting vaccinated gave her peace of mind by feeling protected at work and out being out in the communities.

Not only did hundreds of farmworkers receive the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine during the vaccination effort, St. Vincent de Paul and the Community Council of Idaho also provided them with masks and food donations.