( Logo courtesy the Eastern Produce Council )

Like other organizations, the Eastern Produce Council, New Providence, N.J., has been forced to cancel several events since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person gatherings starting in March.

Even the phrase “in-person gatherings” shows how much times have changed in three months.

Fresh produce companies in New Jersey and beyond have turned to virtual, video-chat staff and client meetings, happy hours, training sessions, workshops, and even award ceremonies.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension hosted a webinar for all EPC members on April 29, instead of the previously planned 2020 EPC Leadership Class presentation on the Food Safety Modernization Act at the annual TopGolf entertainment venue event in Edison, N.J. 

“You know, it was good,” said Susan McAleavey Sarlund, council executive director. 

“We had 35 to 40 people on it, and they did a condensed version. I’m a little tired of Zoom stuff, but it gets the job done.”

The New Jersey and South Carolina departments of agriculture were sponsors of canceled events, so the agriculture commissioners from both states provided updates on their farms for membership on the council website, www.easternproducecouncil.com.

“I can say with great confidence, our farmers are equipped to nimbly adjust delivery schedules and help you overcome some supply chain issues,” New Jersey Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Fisher said on the video. 

The division of markets is in full swing with increased digital and social marketing efforts, as well as in-store banners, placecards and signs, he said.

Instead of presenting Jacqueline Giz her $5,000 EPC-Nolan Family Foundation scholarship May 19 at the council’s annual barbecue at Demarest Farms, Hillsdale, N.J., Sarlund and Theresa Nolan presented it to Giz on Zoom video, with her uncle, EPC member George Moskal, on video as well.

“It’s nice to celebrate something these days,” Sarlund said.

The 45th annual Sal Zacchia, Phil LaRocca and Pete Piastra Memorial Golf Outing was rescheduled for Sept. 12, at Fox Hollow Golf Club, Branchburg, N.J.

“Hopefully we’ll be OK with that. We’re really excited about still have that on the books,” she said.

The council is waiting on guidance from Gov. Phil Murphy before sending out golf applications.

“That will affect how we go about it. That’s still in flux. That’s been the hardest thing. With all the uncertainty, it’s hard to plan, and with conviction say what you’re doing,” Sarlund said.

Still in the books — for now — are the Idaho Potato Commission and Litehouse Foods Tailgate at MetLife Stadium, Sept. 29; the Joe DeLorenzo Family Day of apple picking at Melick’s Town Farm, Oldwick, N.J., Oct. 3; and the 11th annual New York Produce Show and Conference at the Javits Convention Center, Dec. 8-11.

“Everything is just one day at a time,” Sarlund said. 

Related content: 
Snapshot: NJ produce season through the eyes of Nardelli Bros.
How indoor, vertical Bowery Farming is faring during COVID-19
These companies made Thrive's Top 50 AgTech and AgFood lists
Indoor farming companies rank high on FoodTech 500 list