Coronavirus concern Farm and garden stores experience busy spring

   Local farm and garden suppliers are as busy as ever in this community where agriculture and horticulture provide either livelihoods or hobbies for a large population of residents.

   J&B Feeds, Inc. and the George County Cooperative have implemented creative ways to remain open to meet the community's needs during the current coronavirus pandemic.

   "One thing I've noticed during this coronavirus situation is that people, for the most part, have been very patient and complimentary about us trying to stay open," J&B Feeds manager Mike Steede said. "People have slowed down a little and seem to be nicer to each other."

   J&B Feeds initiated a drive-through service in the latter half of March allowing customers to place and pickup orders through outdoor attendants. Customers remained in their automobiles. The drive-through, one-way entrance and exit encompassed their front parking lot; however, that service method was too overbearing on the staff, according to Steede. In early April the store changed its service method to allow five people at a time inside the store. Shopping areas are roped off and clear instructions inform customers how to maneuver inside the store and how to safely exit the store without risking close contact with other customers. Floor tape identifies six-foot intervals for social distancing. Customers do not touch or handle the merchandise as was done in pre-coronavirus shopping days. Instead, customers ask a store clerk to collect the products and the customer pays at a counter lined with clear shower curtains.  The curtains offer a veil of protection between the clerks and the customers. The clerks clean and sanitize their hands between customers.

   George County Cooperative implemented a similar service arrangement the first part of April, according to the Co-op's bookkeeper Wilburn Bolen. Aisles are sealed and customers can enter the store observing the six-feet social distancing rule. Clerks gather the merchandise and accept payment. "We also have curbside service. If someone doesn't feel comfortable coming inside, they can place an order over the phone and either pay over the phone or from their car using our portable credit card machine," Bolen said.

   Bolen emphasized that the Co-op is still offering its fertilizer service. Farmers can hire the Co-op to spread fertilizer in their fields and pastures.

   J&B Feeds, 39 Virginia Street, has been owned by members of the Hinton family for four decades. Keith Hinton currently owns it. It opens daily at 7:30 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. except for Wednesday and Saturday when it closes at noon. The Co-op, 220 Depot Road, is owned cooperatively by farmers and is open 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday Thursday and Friday It closes at noon on Wednesday and Saturday Neither store operates on Sunday.

   Both stores offer large supplies of plants, seeds, feed, fertilizer, pesticides, potting soil, farm and garden tools and a plethora of other related goods. As the scare of spreading the COVID-19 disease increased, both operations began to implement practices for the safety of employees and customers and tweaked those methods as necessary.

   Some area businesses began voluntarily closing the week of March 16 as the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization strongly recommended hand and respiratory hygiene as well as social distancing to help flatten the curve of the number of cases and ensuing deaths. Many of these closed because their services could not be offered without close human contact, such as hair salons or without touching and trying on clothing, such as stores selling clothes and shoes. Eventually many of those were labeled nonessential and were forced to close by the governor's order that took effect April 3. Grocers and other essential businesses have remained open with patrons using caution and often wearing masks and gloves. Most pharmacies, banks and restaurants have been able to utilize drive-through windows and curbside service.

   With the growing alarm of the coronavirus pandemic, Steede said he has observed that the general behavior of people is very similar to the scare of Y2K at the turn of the 21st century.

   Computer engineers worked diligently during the late 1990s and successfully prevented havoc on computer systems when the new millennium arrived. However, the general public showed concern to prepare for the unknown.

   "People thought their food supply might be threatened, and they began to remember working in their parents' or grandparents' gardens as kids. They began to think 'I need to learn how to do this again,'" Steede, who transitioned from agriculture teacher to County Agent during Y2K, said. "People's behavior today is very similar to Y2K."

   Steede said that raised beds are excellent for backyard gardening and that many people today are choosing to build small, boxed beds. "These are easier to keep up and to keep out the weeds," he said. "You will be more successful with these small areas."

   The governor's order to Shelter-in-Place has given citizens opportunity to work in their yards and gardens. Many people believe that gardens should be planted by Good Friday and the timing of the Shelter-in-Place has coincided nicely with that gardening principle.

   Steede said he urges people to continue tending to the vegetables and fruits they are planting. "Whenever we get back to whatever the new normal is going to look like after this, I hope people don't forget about their gardens. Gardening is a great stress reliever and can offer much enjoyment."

   Award-winning journalist Nancy Jo Maples has been writing about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. Contact her at nancyjomaples@aol.com.

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