Leonardo Castro of Borba Farms: “Well it’s the way we have to follow certain rules we aren’t used to [that’s difficult]. With people you have to show them that they have to follow rules they’re not used to following,” Castro said. “For us here in the markets it's a bit slower. This week it’s been better than weeks before, but before it was bad. And now, for example, at our farm we are having problems finding people to do the work and we are short on people, which is a whole other thing.”

Under the order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 19, seeking to control the spread of the coronavirus, workers in nonessential businesses across the state have been ordered to stay home. Since then, we have all felt the eerie calm descend on our streets. But businesses and agencies deemed critical remain open, including those that provide food, medicine, transportation and other basic services. For workers in these fields, the simple act of coming to work has become a heroic act that carries the danger of exposure to the virus. These people put themselves at risk to keep our society running.

On a recent Saturday morning, professional photographer Cali Godley made her way to the Diablo Valley Farmers’ Market in Walnut Creek to pick up groceries for the week. While there she spoke with market vendors and growers about the negatives and positives of being an essential business during COVID-19.

Hollie Lucas-Alcalay of Hollie’s Homegrown: “We all look different because we are all wearing masks and gloves. Just the physical differences are pretty jarring. Just to see people like this, it’s kind of scary in a way,” Lucas-Alcalay said. “I think for me it’s a reminder how important food is — growing it for all of us. And it’s really exciting to see so many people interested in starting their own gardens and having their own plant source. It’s thrilling for me just because I love it and I’ve based a whole business on it. It’s really great to see people preparing and planting and eating their own foods.”
Jose Granados of Royal Greens: “We have to set up boundaries. We have a line so everyone can walk through to see all the veggies and see what they like and pick out what they like, and at the end is the check out … and obviously we have to stay six feet apart. The thing that’s most complicated is telling people how to line up and giving them directions,” said Granados. “We also have a ‘You touch, you buy’ policy, which is really hard sometimes. I don’t feel comfortable enforcing that, especially if they don’t want to buy it.”
Kong Lee of Lee Family Farms: “This time has been very difficult and very stress[ful]. But we serve food for the people. We have to do it. Some people are scared … but we still have to bring food to their table,” said Lee. “That’s how it is. That’s how the farm workers do it. The biggest challenge is safety, caring about other people’s health. Keep it safe for everyone and keep giving good food.”
Cameron Burns (right) and Darius Long Jr. of Crispian Bakery: “It’s a lot busier than we were expecting,” said Burns. “I feel like we’ve done better since this virus happened because no one wants to be inside in Safeway and stuff. Everyone wants to be outside when they shop so it’s a lot better.” “Definitely what Cameron said,” Long added. “There is definitely a big increase and a lot more people coming out just because of the open-air environment.”