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What COVID-19 means down on the farm

Katherine Marcano-Bell, who goes by “LatinxFarmer” on Twitter, has just finished cleaning up after loading hogs with her husband, BJ, on their farm in southeast Iowa. They are contract growers with two finishing sites holding about 11,000 pigs total at a time.

Bell grew up as part of a large Hispanic family in the New York City area and came to Iowa for college, where she met her husband, whose family has farmed for six generations near Keota. They have two young children. 

COVID-19 and labor issues are top of mind.

“My husband tries to remain confident, but I worry because is only the two of us working the livestock side of this farm, and there are a lot of pigs,” says Bell. “We don’t have hired help. When we have to load and send hogs for processing, we depend on local help.”

READ MORE: As coronavirus drives down commodity prices, farm groups ask for aid

The Bells trade labor with a couple of farmers they know and trust. The problem comes if anyone has an outbreak of an infectious diseases. “What if one of us becomes sick and we have to isolate ourselves, or if a person who we relied on to help was sick?” says Bell. “You have to adapt and figure out what to do. We are very self-reliant and don’t depend on others for most of our labor.”

She doesn’t want outside workers to come on the farm any more than necessary. “We have to make sure that everything is in good working order because we have to limit who comes to our farm. We don’t want sick people around us or our animals.”

Child care is another stress. “We rely on my in-laws for child care if I am working with the hogs and there is no day care available at the school.” Today her kids are at her in-laws’ because everyone is healthy right now. Her in-laws would be high risk for COVID-19, so they would self-quarantine if anyone had symptoms.

Another worry is the pork supply chain. “With COVID-19, we worry about plants shutting down and us having to keep pigs for a longer period of time,” says Bell.

She uses social media to talk to other farmers but also to spread the truth about the new coronavirus with friends and family on the East Coast.

Some information in the Hispanic communities has implied that pork is not safe to eat, she says. “They had heard that the virus jumped to pigs and were concerned about the meat. There is a huge amount of misinformation; it’s shocking and scary. I am constantly battling misinformation that they are passing around, trying to debunk that, and provide them with facts.”

Social media is a way to see different perspectives, she says. “It can be isolating out here. I am the only one in this town who speaks Spanish.”

Stepping away from her phone at times is therapeutic. “Sometimes I need it, and sometimes it is too toxic and I have to disconnect,” she says about social media.

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