Minutes - COVID-19 Recovery Meeting - Value Added Agri

*To contribute additions or revisions to these notes please email Angie at contactus@pecchamber.com Reminder that these notes are not meant to represent a transcript of the meeting.

COVID-19 Recovery Meeting : Value Added Agriculture

Mike Harper – Councillor – Thank you all very much – Sarah from the BIA, Lesley from the Chamber, Phil St. Jean, myself and today Grace Nyman. We’ve been talking about concerns and immediate needs. But today we want to shift our focus to the issue of reopening and how to do that. Samantha Parsons (Parson’s Brewing) is on the call and she is on the Economic Recovery Team. When I raise my hand it is just an indicator to move on, it is not personal it is just to facilitate the discussion. We are taking notes but there is not a transcript.

What is the situation in your sector and what are the top issues (tell us in 30 seconds):

Sandy Abbott – not with any specific sector but she is a business counsellor and has worked in the County for many years. She has facilitated value added agriculture workshops with the County. She sees that the issue of social distancing and what you are selling and what is considered essential as the top issues. As we roll out – the logical and practical way of doing things is a concern. People need to know the rules and the safety value of them.

Cliff – E-commerce business – we are looking to facilitate online sales for farmers and farm stands. Hoping to launch this week – they have about 150 people signed up and 20 some odd vendors. I think it’s going to be slow, people will be wary of going out to public places even if the law says you can. If we can facilitate virtual pick up and delivery we think it will help businesses. Also farmers are not sure what or if they should plant.

Duarte – PECWA – we are completely closed and the concerns are multi-pronged. The revenue that we would be making up to now would be to pay for foreign workers, staffing and supplies. We’ve come out of a brutal winter with no revenue to cover these costs. It’s critical that we get the foreign workers here and then when they arrive, they have to be quarantined for 14 days and they have to be housed, fed, etc. The government is offering some funding. If you are a large winery then you have lost or cancelled all of your events for the year and you don’t know if you are going to get them back. Restaurants are closed and that is a huge hit to the wineries re: sales. All of our PECWA events have been postponed except TASTE for near the end of September but that may be postponed as well. There are still the expectations to pay all of your excise taxes, your equipment, etc. In terms of government loans - the last thing a winery needs is more debt as it is unsustainable.

Jeffrey Bagshaw – Chef – I have been associated with The County for a few years, worked with many culinary events. He’s been working on a long term sustainable solution for PEC produce to get it out to people. We are working on a farming cooperative for a short term and long term solution.

Paul Bastionson – I’m in agritourism and there are no tourists so there is no revenue. I’m a farmer and no events on the farm. We use to have tourists come to the farm and go to our local shop for items. It’s mostly about farm experience so without tourists coming there is nothing.

Samantha Parsons – Parson’s Brewing – a couple of things for us, we are closed like the wineries. We have been using an online platform that has been helpful. There were significant start up costs to getting us online and for boxes and shipping. We are operating with a skeleton staff and are looking at a 50% revenue loss. How much can we move forward in this situation? Not sure they can access the staff they will need when they are allowed to get up and running and the revenue they would have normally made in this period would have paid for staff training. Trying to reinvent their space. Our retail space is good and we are doing well with contactless sales. Not sure when we are allowed to reopen and how we will do that without enough staff. They are not brewing at this point as they are low on staff and doing deliveries themselves but luckily they had stockpiled previously so have supply to sell.

Patricia McDermott – runs the Wellington Farmer’s Market and the Agrarian Market in Picton – she wants to focus on the WFM – we had about 50 vendors sign up. They are worried that they will not be able to have their market and the revenue from that. The issue of getting the migrant workers in. Also what should the farmers plant for crops? She is looking to try to create a warehouse for the WFM for drop off and pick up to assist those vendors. Short term long term – there are no tourists. She cannot tell you the impact this is having on PEC – it is unprecedented. She feels that the loans from the local financial institutions are of no use and she doesn’t feel that loans are the solution. She says that tourism being down in the County will affect everyone, everywhere.

Mike – yesterday the government released their framework for opening the province. There will be a 3 phased stages to it. For each of those phases the government is imagining that it will take 3-4 weeks. If the community and businesses all did their part then I believe that we are discussing phase 2 for our area as tourism is not essential. So we may be able to start to open up mid to late June and how does that affect your businesses?

Duarte – June would be good, not great but better than nothing. How do you ramp up with staff, etc and then what happens if you have to shut down again if people aren’t doing what they are supposed to re: social distancing. How do you handle setting up sanitizer stations, environmental issues related to waste, etc. June is better than nothing but how comfortable will people be with coming out to places. We also need to make sure that we are welcoming to people coming into the area from outside PEC.

Mike – that is an issue that came up in a meeting last week and that is a responsibility of the municipality to make sure the community knows that they need to be welcoming and that tourists know that they will be welcomed. Back to the question regarding opening mid June and issues with that.

Cliff – I think there is a great opportunity to help the tourism industry. One of the things we are offering is multi-lingual service. Think of it like Amazon for PEC specifically. You can deliver your product to people in the County. If people can get their groceries sent to their cottage or campground we feel that will really help with some of the issues.

Mike – so what are the principles/best practices, guidelines that we will be instituting for this industry in a safe measured way. Back to Samantha re: the time frame

Samantha – I would need to be looking at hiring. How many people would that look like – I could usually serve 300 people – will it be only 100 and how do we do that. The logistics will be very important. We need to have really clear guidance. And if someone gets sick what does that mean for your business? Does that mean that you are shut down for two weeks and how do you deal with that. She agrees that the County has a great brand and thinks it could work to do boxes/packages. She is hopeful but cautious on how they will do things re: sanitation, staff training.

Mike – The province isn’t going to dictate – you as the business owner are going to have to make the call. If the provinces says 50% you don’t have to do up to that as you could choose to do 30%. Going to Patricia – how do you think the market could work under those conditions such as social distancing rules?

Patricia – she doesn’t feel that it could work with social distancing rules as she doesn’t feel people are adhering to social distancing rules locally. She feels the province needs to give us a hard opening date. She says if they give us a soft opening date and we start planning and hiring and training and then the date is moved, what do we do about that. Also we need hard details/rules on social distancing from the province. She is not sure how the County can assist with that. She doesn’t know if it is realistic.

Mike – what I’m hearing is that we as business owners have some control and the concern is the tourists and them adhering to the new rules. The tourists are also looking for safety when they come here. What practically speaking do we need to anticipate?

Patricia – people are looking to come to open spaces and to walk downtown Wellington. I think it is unreasonable to assume that we will be able to manage foot traffic in the market or in downtown. We would need to hire an extra 10 people just to manage foot traffic into the church. Then there are the limits that we would have on the number of vendors that would be allowed because of the distance required between booths. We really have to listen to our farmers and to the residents of our County who are concerned about the risks, that’s why she is looking into the warehouse option. Contactless farm boxes. She is not comfortable with things right now. She also doesn’t know if moving the market is financially viable.

Mike – Duarte – what are things you are hearing?

Duarte – to pair with what Patricia said – how do you limit people into the space? Do we have every staff member wearing gloves and masks and how do you source that? The vineyard workers in the field can do social distancing. When it comes to plants – you can’t just start and stop. Our immediate focus is getting the vines out of the ground because then we are talking about not only impacting this year but next years crop. Depending on the space it will be very challenging as some places will be very limited on getting a safe number of people into your space. How do you handle parking? To Sam’s point - it is really about having a plan and rules to follow. If we are going to work from a set of rules then we will all have to do it the same to be successful. Same rules across the board even in different places.

Mike – We will have a limited number of accommodations available and we will need to manage the number of people coming onto the island. We may need a plan to control the number of people coming into the County. Thoughts on how we would do that?

Duarte – I don’t know how we are going to regulate that. We are either open or we are closed. Plus how do we know who people have come in contact with. If we are adding security and bathroom attendants to clean after everyone uses them how is that sustainable and how do we manage that?

Samantha – we did one last service before the closure and the stress from that was palpable. There were delays due to cleaning issues and people were getting irritated at the wait. We need to think about what risks we are asking of people very seriously (staff, etc.)

Duarte – it is a lot to ask, especially of a summer student, etc. I would be really pressed to ask that of someone.

Mike – What I’m hearing is we are either open or we are not. If we open up, we are opening ourselves up to a lot of risk and issues. Do you think that if we open up you will be able to operate?

Patricia – Yes, but we will need clear direction from the government. The fear is very strong right now. We will need a lot more information from the government advising that we can open and how we will do it.

Duarte – a lot of our members quickly pivoted to online sales, but it is their most expensive channel to sell through. They are also seeing upcoming problems from our delivery companies who do not know if they will be able to continue to operate as their business is down. We will need clear information from the government and funding/support to reopen businesses again. The worst thing will be if we open and then have to close again. Concerns about things getting worse in the fall when flu season comes and especially if we haven’t been able to open. There will be a lot of work that needs to be done in order to open in mid June and a lot of support from the government will be needed.

Mike – we need to think through how we can open in a measured way. Please contact Samantha, myself, Phil, Lesley, or Sarah for information/assistance.

Phil St Jean – can we open it up for Sandy to comment

Sandy – I don’t have a clue what the solution would be and hearing about a passport sounds very hard to do. She feels that individual businesses can handle their issue well but how do we manage it on a large scale? We could open and then be shut down again if we cannot control the numbers of people in the community.

Mike – Thank you all very much and we will be in touch. Goodbye.

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