Apr 20, 2020 2:30 PM

KRC providing COVID-19 resources for farmers, ranchers

Posted Apr 20, 2020 2:30 PM

TOPEKA – The Kansas Rural Center (KRC) has been listening and responding to questions, mostly from farmers and community leaders working quickly to respond to the new realities of the pandemic. Like many, KRC has responded virtually moving meetings, resources, and communicating information exclusively online, according to a media release.

One tool KRC has curated is a webpage with an extensive list of COVID -19 guidance, resources, and FAQ’s specifically for farmers, ranchers, food businesses, and communities responding to the pandemic. It can be found at kansasruralcenter.org/covid19-guidance.

A few key takeaways are that producers are still ready and willing to get safe food to Kansans despite opening season of farmers markets being delayed or tentatively closed.

Farmers need to know that it’s still okay to sell products to consumers, all following best practices for public safety, of course. There are more and more resources becoming available by state and national agencies and organizations to help both farmers and consumers make shifts in access to food and markets.

Among the resources KRC lists, the FAQ page tackles questions addressing how the shelter in place orders affect mobility and markets for farmers, grants and loans available to farms and small businesses, and how to purchase locally grown food from farmers.

Here in Kansas, organizations and agencies have created new COVID-19 resources such as best practices for farmers markets on the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s website and produce safety resources and webinars from K-State Extension.

Many farmers are pivoting to online sales and many resources have become available on how to make that shift and the tools to do it.

Navigating the CARES Act aid options available specifically for farmers has so far proven confusing and overwhelming however many resources are becoming available to help clarify the options and processes.

Farm Commons, a nonprofit that provides resources and services on farm law has provided several resources on farm eligibility and guidance on CARES Act aid provisions like the Paycheck Protection Program. Farmers' Legal Action Group just released a “Farmers’ Guide to COVID-19 Relief” which focuses on how these various programs can provide relief to farmers. All of these resources and more are linked on KRC’s COVID-19 resource pages.

KRC is updating the webpage everyday with new and updated information and resources. For questions or comments on what may be helpful to farms and communities amid the pandemic please reach out to KRC at [email protected] or 866-579-5469.

For more information, visit kansasruralcenter.org.

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Apr 20, 2020 2:30 PM
US restaurants expect big changes when their doors reopen

By DEE-ANN DURBIN and PAUL WISEMAN, Associated Press

The days of standing shoulder-to-shoulder at a bar or sharing a meal at a table for 10 are gone for now — and could take a long time to return even after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

U.S. restaurants are thinking ahead to a time when their dining room doors reopen to a changed world. Owners say there may be physical differences, like masked waiters, disposable menus or fewer tables so patrons can sit farther apart. There will be signs explaining cleaning procedures and glass dividers to protect cashiers. Disinfectant wipes might sit next to napkin dispensers.

“The pivot with my restaurants doesn’t anticipate a return to exactly what was,” said Dan Simons, the owner of Farmers Restaurant Group, which owns six restaurants, a bakery and a distillery in the Washington area and a restaurant in Pennsylvania.

Restaurants that have reopened in Asia provide a blueprint. In Hong Kong, public gatherings are limited to four people, and restaurants must keep tables nearly 5 feet apart. Customers’ temperatures are taken at the door, and they are required to wear masks unless they’re eating or drinking.

In Hefei, China, the La Ma Restaurant reopened March 17 but still checks diners’ temperatures and disinfects the premises every two to three hours, said employee Yang Gui. Business is down by half compared with before the outbreak, Yang said. As few as a dozen diners come some days; two-thirds of the staff have yet to return to work.

That’s changing the experience for diners. Rae Elloso, a teacher in Hong Kong, eats out occasionally because she feels it’s important to have social contact. Dining out is more peaceful now, she said, but also a little uncomfortable when some seating areas are blocked off.

“When restaurants tape up chairs and tables, the impression I get as a diner is that they don’t want me there, even though I know this is not the case,” Elloso said.

David Siu, who also lives in Hong Kong, has noticed that restaurants try to turn the tables over more quickly because they have less capacity.

Delivery is also accelerating in China, indicating many people still want to eat at home. Spending on food at restaurants, convenience stores and other outlets dropped 30% in China in January and February, but delivery spending was up 10% in that period, according to NPD Group, a data and consulting firm.

Takeout and delivery were already gaining in popularity in the U.S. before the pandemic with the introduction of apps like UberEats; that may accelerate if shell-shocked consumers stay home. Menus will likely be pared down, with more focus on food that travels well.

John Gordon, founder of San Diego-based Pacific Management Consulting Group, which advises restaurants, thinks U.S. restaurants — like Asia’s — will have to follow local guidelines when they reopen. Earlier this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested the state might require temperature checks and more distance between tables.

Gordon says regulations about density will affect restaurants differently. Sit-down restaurants like Cheesecake Factory are designed to bring in a certain amount of money per square foot, so they would see their profitability drop. Fast food chains generally don’t have a lot of business in their dining rooms, so they may not feel as much impact.

But with business down as much as 80% in the sector right now, Gordon said, most restaurants aren’t yet focused on the impact of potential regulations.

“They’re just trying to survive to get to whatever the other side of this is,” he said.

While they wait, some restaurants are already experimenting. Simons added fresh produce and other grocery items to his Founding Farmers restaurants this month. It was a big success. Simons has rehired 175 of his 1,100 staff members, and he’s making 60% of pre-virus sales at one location and 80% at another between takeout and groceries.

Simons expects to continue grocery sales once his dining rooms reopen. He’s also considering other ideas, like renting out the dining space for events.

Even before the pandemic, Simons said restaurants were struggling with the popularity of takeout and delivery, high labor costs and lower alcohol consumption among younger patrons.

Overall traffic at U.S. restaurants was flat last year, according to NPD Group. But digital orders for takeout were up 33%, while digital orders for delivery rose 16%.

With those numbers in mind, many restaurants were already shifting away from big dining rooms. In December, Applebee’s opened its first takeout- and delivery-focused restaurant in Mobile, Alabama. The store is half the size of a traditional Applebee’s, and all the food is packaged to go.

Bent Hansen, the owner of Los Gringos Locos, a Mexican restaurant near Pasadena, California, says it will be up to restaurants to make diners feel comfortable. That will likely mean visible cleaning, fewer tables, touchless ordering and lots of hand sanitizer. He’s also thinking of hiring his own delivery drivers so he can make sure cars are sanitized and the food is protected until it’s delivered.

Restaurants will eventually bounce back, predicts Henry Pertman, director of operations at Total Image Creative, a Maryland-based hospitality consulting firm.

“If you think this is going to make people want to cook their own meals while surfing the Food Channel, you’re wrong. You can only burn so many pot roasts,” he said.

But some restaurants just can’t make the math work right now. The Downtowner in Lafayette, Indiana, closed its dining room in mid-March and quickly abandoned takeout after getting only a handful of orders. Now the 69-year-old restaurant is shuttered until the crisis passes. Its six full-time employees are signing up for unemployment benefits.

Still, Manager Yolanda Timmons said she’s optimistic that the restaurant will reopen when the outbreak recedes.

“We’re going to have the biggest party when we can all get out,” Timmons said.