OAKWOOD — The impact the current COVID-19 outbreak has had on the economic and physical well-being of the area and the nation cannot be understated.
For Cooper Farms, addressing the issues that come with responsible corporate ownership and the changes necessary in the current climate is front and center.
“Just like every other business out there, we have had to make changes to our business model,” noted Cassie Jo Arend, corporate communications manager for Cooper Farms. “The big focus has always been animal health and food safety, first and foremost. Because of that mindset, we already had a lot of protocols in place.
“We were already sanitizing plants nightly, taking all the machines apart and sanitizing them, things of that nature,” added Arend. “All our farms are shower in, shower out plants, meaning our team members take full showers and change their clothing before entering and exiting the farms.”
With the health of its workers, its animals and the public in mind, the transition to higher safety standards has not been as drastic.
“We’ve found that that mindset has really come in handy and our team members understand it,” explained Arend. “Mandatory face coverings, adding extra barriers so people can be six feet apart, those kinds of things. Biosecurity and food safety are such high priorities for us.”
Recent outbreaks at meat processing plants across the country that have led to coronavirus hotspots have put a spotlight on the moving parts that comprise the meat supply chain in America. Cooper Farms’ approach has insulated the company from some of the stresses.
“We’ve actually been pretty blessed in the fact that we’re a farm to table company,” said Arend. “We have our own breeding farms, we hatch our own eggs and we handle our own processing and cooked meats. There’s been adjustments and changes, sure, but overall we’ve fared really well. We couldn’t be more thankful for our team members.”
The coronavirus’ impact is apparent in spite of Cooper Farms’ actions to combat, with 34 confirmed cases at the company’s processing plant in St. Henry, according to a report from Your News Now reporter Katie Honigford in Lima.
The St. Henry plant employs about 700 workers at the facility.
“We have had a lot of conversations with the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health throughout this entire process,” noted Arend. “We’ve gone through our processing plant in St. Henry, since the beginning of March, we’ve been working to be as safe as possible.
“Of course it’s impossible to have 100% of people not get sick, but we do feel confident that we’re doing the right thing. A lot of it is transparency, communicating with our workers and with those on the outside. We want to make sure we’re accessible and transparent, we have nothing to hide.”
With a relatively stable position at the current time, Cooper Farms has also been at the forefront in giving back in the community during a time where plenty are hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.
“The Cooper family has been really good about understanding that our team members and communities are why we are where we are,” said Arend, referring to siblings, Gary, Dianne and Jim Cooper, who have led the company since the retirement of their father, Virgil, in 1978. “They have definitely made an effort to give back. Cooper Farms has bought gift cards to local restaurants and delivered them to hospitals in the company’s communities, $10,000 worth of gift cards, along with 21,000 meals to areas in need.”
The company also is making an effort to reward its employees that have helped power Cooper Farms for decades.
“Our main priority is what can we do to ensure safety for our workers and their families,” said Arend. “We’re giving all our team members a shirt that has the #CooperTrooper on it, and for each share online of the shirts, we’re giving a dollar per share to Ohio food banks.
“Also, this Friday, we’re recognizing our Cooper Troopers and paying everyone eight hours for the day off that can take the day off. For those that are working, we’re going to pay the eight hours on top of it as a thank you for being essential. It’s been a long road and a long process, but we want our team members to know that they have not gone unnoticed.”