While COVID-19 restrictions rocked the U.S. economy in 2020, agriculture chugged along as an essential business, with scores of migrant and seasonal laborers working to keep homebound Americans fed.
Julio Gutierrez spent the early days of the pandemic in April and May harvesting asparagus at Larsen Farms in Pasco, Wash. At first, he said news of the virus had him scared.
"Some people were dying of it, and some people were getting really sick," Gutierrez said.
However, Gutierrez, 33, said he needed to work to support his wife and three kids. A native of Sinaloa, Mexico, Gutierrez is an experienced farmworker who has spent nine years at Larsen Farms, splitting his time between hand-cutting rows of asparagus and running the scale house.
Last year was unlike any other, Gutierrez said in Spanish. He spoke alongside his crew boss, Hector Lopez, who assisted with translating.
"When the pandemic hit, it kind of changed things," Gutierrez said. "I would just take all the precautions that were in the news, and try not go out as much as I used to."
On the farm, that meant wearing a mask and frequently sanitizing his hands. Larsen Farms has approximately 130 workers harvesting up to 800 pounds of asparagus a day.
Lopez said the workers are spread out in the fields, which made it easier for them to maintain 6 feet of social distance versus working side by side in a warehouse.
"(Harvest) ran normal," Lopez said. "Everybody would show up to work. They would just take the precautions."
Gutierrez said he had no problems finding work. After asparagus season, he went on to his normal jobs picking cherries and processing potatoes at other farms in southeast Washington.
He said he felt safe working on the farms, and has since received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. He will receive his second dose on April 27.
"I learned that by taking care of myself, and taking the precautions, I would be OK," Gutierrez said.