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OSU Extension helps farm workers stay safe
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OSU Extension helps farm workers stay safe

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Farmers started lining up long before staff arrived at the OSU Extension Service-Linn County office in Tangent Wednesday morning, waiting to pick up free face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer for their employees.

The goal: to keep farm workers safe in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for 10 members of the Oregon National Guard’s Springfield armory and the Oregon Department of Agriculture — from whom supplies came — to unload boxes containing 60,000 masks and large bottles of hand sanitizer, and the line of cars quickly began moving through the Extension Service parking lot.

“The masks and sanitizer are coming from the Oregon Department of Agriculture,” office manager Michelle Webster said. “They are being distributed at 18 locations and are free.”

Webster said the project was relayed to farmers through the OSU Extension social network and included distribution for farmers in Benton County.

“There was a long line of vehicles when I got here at 7:45,” Webster said. Distribution wasn’t scheduled to start until 9 a.m.

Each farmer could pick up 10 masks per employee and two large bottles of hand sanitizer per farm. Dimitri Balint, owner of Green Gable Farms near Philomath, was picking up items for his 30 employees.

“We grow cut flowers, strawberries and vegetables and we can’t do that if our employees aren’t healthy,” Balint said. “Without them, we don’t have a farm.”

Balint said most farmers are proactive and want to take care of their employees “because without them, we won’t survive.”

Army Specialist Ashley Smallwood of the 2/162 unit in Springfield, said the materials came from a National Guard hub in Wilsonville.

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“This is fun and rewarding,” Smallwood said. “It’s a learning experience and it’s always great to help out.”

Smallwood said it’s also a departure from her regular National Guard duties as a cook.

In addition to the PPEs, Extension Service staff also handed out packets of information about the need for hand washing in Spanish, and healthy recipes in Spanish and English as well as how to receive SNAP benefits.

Wednesday’s project was part of a Gov. Kate Brown’s plan to distribute one million KN95 masks and 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to farm workers and ag producers.

Other distributions Wednesday were in Clackamas, Columbia, Benton, Marion, Polk, Washington and Yamhill counties.

The action comes when some farm operations are concerned about new temporary OSHA regulations concerning ag workers.

Those rules include:

• Providing at least one portable toilet and hand washing station per 10 workers. The current standard is one station per 20 workers.

• Toilets and hand washing facilities must be sanitized at least three times per day.

• Unrelated workers cannot share bunk beds in housing units.

• All beds must be separated by at least 6 feet, or an impermeable barrier.

• Farms that provide transportation for workers must ensure 3 feet of distance in vehicles during travel, and drivers and passengers must wear facial coverings. High-contact areas in vehicles must also be sanitized before each trip, or at least twice daily if in continuous use.

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