Chelan Produce sells fruits and vegetables from Washington in stands like this one in Sitka and in Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of Dave Kensinger)

Getting fresh produce in Petersburg will be a little different for some customers this growing season. Two of the town’s main suppliers are changing their usual program to help keep customers and themselves safe during the COVID-19 outbreak. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

Chelan Produce has been delivering fruits and vegetables from Washington State to Petersburg and Sitka for decades. The owners, Dave Kensinger and Mona Christian fly down to Washington every few weeks transferring the produce to a barge and then back up to Alaska. It’s a busy two week cycle from May until September.

However, this year they’ve canceled their first scheduled delivery in early May.

“This is the first time in 42 years that I’ve had to cancel a planned produce run,” Kensinger said.

A Chelan Produce stand like this one in Petersburg draws crowds each summer to purchase produce brought up from Washington by owners Dave Kensinger and Mona Christian. (Photo courtesy of Dave Kensinger)

Washington and Alaska both require two week travel quarantines. Kensinger says that would make it impossible for Chelan to move product between communities.

“So, I’d have to fly to Seattle, quarantine for two weeks, fly back up here, quarantine for two weeks, fly to Sitka, quarantine for two weeks. It wouldn’t work,” Kensinger said.

They also don’t know if they can hold their normal farm stand with the social distancing recommendations the way they are now. Chelan boxes up orders for some people but many others show up to the stand to pick out produce themselves. Sometimes there is a long line of people under one tent.

Besides produce, Chelan is still running its garden store in Petersburg. They are taking appointments for people to come look at plants in the greenhouse as well as orders online. Kensinger says they are allowing only two people inside the greenhouse at one time.

2020 crops grow inside a high tunnel at Farragut Farm located in Farragut Bay near Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of Marja Smets)

Petersburg residents also get fresh produce from Farragut Farm located in nearby Farragut Bay.  Local farmers, Bo Varsano and Marja Smets, will still be selling their veggies this summer but how they are doing it is changing. Smets says the farm has offered a seasonal subscription of veggies to be delivered to Petersburg homes from May to October.

“And we were doing that in an effort to sort of pull some of the traffic away from the farm stand,” Smets said. “You know, it can get pretty busy; a big line up of people.”  

Customers quickly signed up for that program and all the subscriptions are now full.

Smets says they will still be holding an outdoor farm stand in Petersburg but it will have limited contact with customers and follow social distancing. The stand will be located at the 208 Haugen at the old Petersburg Bottled Gas Building. Smets says they will be helping customers one at a time, asking them to stay six feet apart while waiting, and to stay in their cars until space opens up.

“So you will come to the stand and we’ll have a display out but you won’t be able to touch the vegetables,” she said. “The person who will be working the stand will just ask you what you’d like and you can point and pick out the vegetables you want and they’ll get bagged up for you and set on a table and you’ll be able to pick up that bag of veggies and drop your payment in basically a big drop box. You won’t have to touch anything.”

Farragut will take cash or check only and won’t be giving out any change.

2020 crops grow outside at Farragut Farm located at Farragut Bay near Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of Marja Smets)

It’s the farm’s 10th year anniversary selling locally grown produce in Petersburg. Smets says this is the first time they will be wearing masks and asking customers to do the same.

“It’s really important to us to keep the community safe and it’s super important that we keep ourselves healthy too,” Smets said. “If we’re to get sick that’s kind of the end of our job and our income for the summer so we need to make sure that we’re being as safe as we can.”

As for Chelan Produce, Kensinger says even if travel quarantines do relax he doesn’t know if they would be able run a farm stand this summer.

“I think we’re just like everybody else,” he said. “We’re playing it week by week.”

While safety recommendations and travel restrictions may change in the coming weeks and months, for now both Chelan and Farragut are sticking with a cautious approach to selling their produce.