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Another farm reports COVID-19 cases

By Richard Rourk

A second local farming business has reported a spike in positive COVID-19 cases.

Jones & Church Farms in Unicoi announced on Saturday, June 6, that 10 out of its 110 employees tested positive for COVID-19. According to a press release from the company, it voluntarily tested its workforce and found the cases.

The 10 team members who tested positive work within the same 15-member field crew, according to the company. Team members who have tested positive will be quarantined for 14 days. Company facilities and equipment are undergoing deep cleaning and sanitization.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members,” Jones & Church Farms Food Safety Director Renea Jones Rogers said. “We are working closely with the Northeast Regional Health Office to manage the impact of this illness on our team members, their families and our communities. We encourage everyone to continue social distancing and protective measures in an effort to keep our community safe.”

Jones & Church plans on moving forward with business in a safe manner.

“We will continue to work hard as we have for the last 45 years providing a high-quality and safe product for our customers,” Jones & Church Farm Manager Greg Church said.

The farm remains in the planting stage and tomatoes won’t be harvested for several weeks, according to the company.

Employees are receiving daily symptom screenings, in accordance with CDC and Department of Health guidelines. These include temperature checks, providing face masks and a range of social distancing measures.

The Jones & Church Farms COVID-19 cases come less than a week after 38 employees of Scott’s Strawberry and Tomato Farm tested positive for COVID-19. That shut down operations for three days to disinfect before opening the doors of their market on Thursday, June 4.

According to Scott’s Strawberry and Tomato Farms President Steve Scott, the 38 employees will remain in quarantine for at least 10 days and will be retested before entering back into the workforce.

Since the announcement of the 38 COVID-19 cases at Scott’s Strawberry and Tomato Farms, several churches have reached out to assist those affected by COVID-19.

North Ridge Community Church campus pastor and worship leader Gary Schwenke said that several churches reached out to North Ridge Community Church to help out.

“First Baptist and First Christian both helped support the efforts, as well as Love Chapel Christian Church and others,” Schwenke said. “We’ll be accepting donations through Sunday, June 14, for sure, but if there are people that want to give after that, they can drop off food or toiletry type items at the church building during the week. Someone is typically there from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. They have requested, tortillas, dried beans and rice, bread, waters, paper towels, soap, shampoos, etc. Anything is appreciated. They can also donate monetarily and we will get it to the Scotts.”

Schwenke said he is proud of the giving spirit of Unicoi County and the dedication that the county has in combating COVID-19.

“We’d just like to thank our community for rallying to help those in need,” Schwenke said. “We’re so thankful to get to be a part of a generous community that is always eager to help those in need. If we aren’t there they can text us at 388-2647 and someone can come meet them.”

Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Erwin joined North Ridge Community Church in providing for those who are battling COVID-19.

“For the farmers at Scott’s Farm and Jones and Church Farm, this time is different,” Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church representative Kenneth Wandera said. “By the time they arrived here a couple of weeks ago, the country was still under lockdown of sorts. For most of them, Catholics, they were not able to attend mass because all the masses had been suspended. But amidst this unprecedented time, they worked the fields, for which they came, separating with their families amidst the pandemic, braving the early summer sun of the South.”

Wandera acknowledged that it is one thing to watch all the bad news related to COVID-19 and loss of lives across the globe, but it is another thing to hear of so many members of a community being afflicted.

“We all belong to this community, either by virtue that we are all Unicoians or that we profess the same creed as Christians,” Wandera said. “So the news of COVID-19 cases hit home in a way.

According to Wandera, Saint Michael’s is a place for spiritual communion, it is where many Catholics from here and those visiting come to worship. But there is more. When Glenmanry Missioners first arrived here, it was because the love of Christ had impelled them to come and share in both the spiritual and physical needs of the people.

“So now, probably more than ever before, our brothers at Scott’s Farm need us more, for more prayers, but their physical needs are as important,” Wandera said. “In the last couple days, members of Saint Michael’s have risen up for our farmers as volunteers and delivered food to them. The church with her funds and other well-wishers have made this possible. Some of the workers continue to be in need of supplies.”

Wandera acknowledged that the sick are in need of donations.

“Things like bread, tortillas, rice, dried beans, foil, and more are needed,” Wandera said. “We have a committed team of volunteers who have gone shopping and delivered them to them. Most of the volunteers in one way or the other are connected to these farmworkers in a personal way. But of course, our church community and indeed the whole Unicoi community are connected to them because they are part of us. All workers are now quarantined and are unable to go out for shopping. Any donations through our church have continued to be welcomed. We are located at 657 N. Mohawk Drive in Erwin for those who may consider dropping off their money donations or considering writing a check and mailing it to Saint Michael the Archangel Parish PO Box 1009, Erwin, 37650. This is probably a great way to help while staying safe. But I dare add, another way to help is to join in the prayer chain, for God himself to lift this lockdown, in ways only known to him.”