Farmer stresses the importance of keeping meat processing plants open

Autumn Olive Farms. | Credit: WHSV
Autumn Olive Farms. | Credit: WHSV(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 5:52 PM EDT
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President Trump recently

during the pandemic. Safety among the workers in close quarters at the plants has been a major concern with keeping them open, but local farmers say processing plants are critical to get products to consumers.

Farmers across the country are facing the issue of losing their customers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Augusta County's Autumn Olive Farms mainly sold large volumes of meat to restaurants, but now, many of those are closed.

"Over about 36 hours, we watched all of our wonderful customers and restaurants have to close their doors, which took out 75 percent of our business," Clay Trainum, of Autumn Olive Farms, said.

To continue operating, Trainum said they had to reinvent the way they do things.

"We were already busy because we birth and raise everything that we sell, but this is very intense, so it's rather exhausting, but if we're to survive, we have to pivot," Trainum said.

Autumn Olive Farms had to pivot to

and package their own products instead of selling large volumes of cuts to restaurants.

"We've had to learn very quickly to do cut work and small portioning for individuals, because people need food," Trainum said.

Food security is a big issue for many Americans right now as they are out of work, and even though farmers have the supply, they can't meet that demand without processing plants.

"Local processing has never been more important. There's not enough of it, and now with major plants closing, out west and the midwest and Canada, you now see a real shortage in food," Trainum said

To address that issue, President Trump signed an executive order requiring meat processing plants to remain open by deeming them critical infrastructure.

Trainum said he understands the risk for workers at the plants, but said there is definitely a need for it, not only to keep businesses like Autumn Olive Farms open, but also so people have good quality food to eat.

That need has grown amid the pandemic.

"The animals are out there, but the processing component is the necessary link between the farmer and the customer," Trainum said.

that at least 22 meatpacking plants have closed over the last two months, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in pork slaughter capacity.

That's because of dozens of confirmed outbreaks at meat processing facilities. In the Shenandoah Valley,


that they've had multiple cases, but said none were transmitted at the facility.

This week, community members from around the Shenandoah Valley

, where workers say their employers have not done enough to protect essential workers.

"It's difficult to establish proper spacing, so it's going to be challenging, but obviously we see the need for it," Trainum said.

Trainum also noted that our food system was very vulnerable to a situation like the pandemic, and he hopes this will open consumers' eyes "to demand products that are raised in a better way, processed in a better way, and it's scalable. It really is."