Hutterite colonies cope with new pandemic reality

Hutterite colonies across the Prairies are taking extra measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Some practices include ensuring members are working at least two metres apart, closing schools and stopping communal meals.

As well, many colonies have allowed only a restricted number of people to attend church service. The remainder can listen to the service in their homes through intercom systems.

“The minister will go up with a group of 15 people for church every day, and everyone is on a schedule. We alternate the number of people who can attend,” said Jeremy Gross, the head of the Pincher Creek Colony.

Physical distancing is extremely important, he said.

“If someone gets sick and brings it home, it could be hard to contain because we are a close-knit community,” Gross said.

In places with dairy, poultry, hog barns, as well as manufacturing facilities, members working within them must be two metres apart.

For some, this adjustment has been smooth.

At the Arm River Colony in Saskatchewan, for example, many members are used to working far apart, said Paul Hofer, the farm manager.

For the time being, however, no one else is allowed in the shop while they are working, he said.

“If we all participate in these practices, we will be safer,” Hofer said.

“Everyone on the colony likes to be healthy, so we might as well follow these rules. There is no use to go against these rules, because then you’re just putting yourself at risk.”

Hofer said Arm River has been following similar practices for church service.

As well, school work is happening at home, now that schools are closed. People don’t come into the kitchen to eat. Instead, meals are eaten at home.

“Going to visit the city or other colonies is a strict no,” he said. “There is only one guy who leaves to get essentials.”

At the Holden Colony in Alberta, similar procedures are in effect.

Darius Hofer, general manager of the colony, said they have been extensively sanitizing workspaces and equipment and have cancelled attendance at farmers markets to minimize exposure risk.

For people who need to pick up orders, they meet a member of the colony in a designated spot in town. They remain in their truck, and someone from the colony will then place the product in the trunk.

“There is no handshake,” Darius said.

With the pandemic, many colonies are worried about getting their livestock to market.

Closures of pork processing facilities in Eastern Canada and in the United States has caused feelings of unease.

“We’re hoping shutdowns don’t happen locally,” said Gross. “Hopefully this pandemic peters out and goes away.”

Paul with Arm River said getting grain delivered has been challenging. Movement has been slow, he said, adding market prices haven’t been great. As well, he said getting parts has been a bit more difficult.

Paul said spring seeding plans are already in place. People will work very far apart in the field, he said.

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