GRANDVIEW — “We’re trying to survive. As farmers, we are essential food producers. We have a state license to be open and we are,” Bill’s Berry Farm co-owners Julie and Bill Michener made clear Monday, Sept. 14.
The Michener farmers grow a variety of berries, apples, cherries, and peaches.
Also operating as a u-pick business encompassing 20 acres, their operation was lumped into the agritourism category which was one of the businesses to be shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic as decreed by Governor Jay Inslee.
Despite the challenges, the Micheners have endeavored to continue operating as normally as possible, however, they understood their tours and special events could not take place. The family farmers wanted to be able to provide essential food services.
When a new change in the restrictions went into effect Sept. 4, allowing for some agricultural tourism services, particularly u-pick and tree farms to reopen and operate under the county’s Modified Phase 1, the Micheners barely noticed.
“We’ve been open all along. In fact, August was our busiest month,” Julie credited to the lack of the normal activities like county fairs, sporting events and community festivals.
The couple made the business decision early on to stay open regardless of the health department’s changing mandates.
“While we observe the county’s social distancing and mask requirements, we don’t insist upon farm visitors wearing masks,” she stated, adding the farm store has a sign detailing the farm’s policies. “...we’re all outside, so I don’t think it makes any sense,” Julie insisted.
Yakima County’s Modified Phase 1 doesn’t allow for other activities, like hayrides and corn mazes, which bring people close together, Health District Director of Public Health Partnerships Lilian Bravo clarified.
She advised ag-services should be provided in a safe and responsible manner at all u-pick and tree farms. “They are urged to follow the appropriate reopening guidelines and requirements,” Bravo reiterated.
“We ask everyone to continue to do their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 so that our community can continue to move forward,” Bravo urged.
However, for the Micheners, the plan is to continue offering their homemade brand of essential agriculture with the proviso of making available hand washing sanitizer stations in the picking areas.
“And, if people want to wear masks they can,” Julie concluded.