Durham-based company helps keep people stocked with fresh produce during pandemic

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NORLINA, N.C. (WNCN) – Harvesting at Jeff Bender’s Warren County farm will look a little different this year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Precautions will go beyond wearing latex gloves, which is something employees already did.

“During harvesting this year, we will add face masks because, during harvest, you do have a little bit of a closer proximity. And, of course, we want to emphasize safety,” Bender said.

He also wants to get produce to the consumer as fresh as possible. That’s why Bender is using Durham-based company Seal the Seasons. They flash freeze local produce so people can get it year-round.

“To the grower, this ranks right beside selling to anybody else fresh,” he said.

That is even more important now because many consumers are trying to stock the freezer as they’re staying home.

“Supporting our local farmers to supporting our local restaurants, it’s just really important right now, and that’s what people are gravitating towards,” said Seal the Seasons founder Patrick Mateer.

“It’s outside the home doing that or inside the home cooking together, and spending more time in the kitchen.”

Blackberry grower Teresa Beam and her family are learning to flash freeze their produce.

“My girls are learning how to can and to flash freeze,” Beam said. “It’s really become a time where we as a family have joined together.”

Beam’s Berry Patch, located in Lawndale, uses Seal the Seasons to flash freeze and distribute the product. However, one drawback of the pandemic has been the availability of migrant workers.

“Because of every one not wanting to come into the U.S. and the government wanting other countries not here, that has been an issue for us. It looks like we are getting workers. It’s just going to be a little bit later,” Beam said.

She also said that works out because of several overnight freezes that delayed crops a few weeks.

A silver lining of the pandemic is that it has Americans eating healthier. Seal the Seasons helps allow people access fresh produce in the freezer.

“They also have time to think about where their food comes from and how many hands have touched it before it got to them,” procurement specialist Danielle Mercier said. “How long did it sit on the shelf before they got to it and I find these all to be positive things for the food community especially the local food community.”

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