Fox Premium Beef (3/27)
Fox Premium Beef is a seventh-generation family farm started in 1860. The Amboy, Minn.-based business produces and markets quality Black Angus beef.
Luke and Karen Fox with children Hayden, Brinnya, Adriana, & Landon (not pictured Sloane).

AMBOY, Minn. – The arrival of a novel strain of coronavirus increased the workload at Fox Premium Beef.

As of March 16, Minnesota had 54 COVID-19 cases and Gov. Tim Walz called on everyone to slow the spread of the respiratory disease as much as possible. Schools were closed across Minnesota beginning March 18.

Restaurants, bars and places of entertainment were closed at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17, ahead of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. At least initially, these venues were scheduled to remained closed until March 27, although pickup and delivery of food was allowed.

If possible, people were expected to stay home unless they needed essentials or were working. People in public areas were asked to stay six feet apart – which led to a new term: social distancing.

At Fox Premium Beef, the team had to work together, and were also determined to take care of each other during the COVID-19 crisis, said Karen Fox. As always, the dairy heifers at the feedlot near Storden and the beef cow/calf herd at home needed daily care.

Karen added that the fields were still quite wet, but the Foxes were cleaning out pens and doing some spreading. They were also hauling corn in March.

With Minnesota schools closing on March 18, Luke and Karen’s two oldest sons, Landon and Hayden, were home. The boys went with their Uncle Jon and Grandfather Dan, to do feed and farm chores. Their schedule would change once Chromebooks were sent home from school for distance-learning. They were still expected to help on the farm when they could.

“That’s the way it is on the farm,” Karen said. “We kind of settled that we will be exposed to each other, so we need to do diligence for the betterment of all of us and be very careful about where we go.

“We’re trying to stay in our family unit and commute and take care of those animals and get back home without making unnecessary stops,” she added.

Karen continued her accounting work for the farm, including some tax work. She found it hard to believe that the first quarter of 2020 was almost over.

“That will keep my desk busy,” she said. “There’s always office work to do – payables and receivables to get invoiced and things like that.”

Electronic/digital communications are a huge benefit and that allowed the Foxes to process certificates for interstate travel for the dairy heifers returning to Wisconsin. The Foxes sent certificates to their vet, who sent them to GlobalVetLINK for interstate movement compliance. Many people were working remotely from home to complete business across the U.S. during the pandemic.

The Foxes began planning for the impact of COVID-19 in early-March. Feed components produced last summer remained adequate. The farm stocked up on needed supplies during the first and second week of March.

Karen Fox and her mother-in-law, Janel Fox, were very busy filling orders for beef. By luck, they had enough locker bookings and beef to fill everyone’s needs.

It was the most business they had ever experienced for Fox Premium Beef.

“First we had two beautiful 60-degree days, followed by the COVID-19 precautions,” said Karen. “People are very much stocking up and seem to have a preference to fill their freezer. We’ve been extremely busy.”

Customers were especially interested in getting ground beef, as well as some steaks and roasts. The orders were picked up at the lockers. She noted that meat counters in the grocery stores were also sold out or low on products.

“We’re happy to give people the comfort they want to have some quality protein,” she said. In at least one instance, she placed the beef in a sanitized box and dropped it off without seeing the customer face-to-face.

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions affected friends and family, far and near. Karen mentioned a nephew helped them on the farm in his younger years. Starting a career in the culinary arts, he was set to work at a new fining dining restaurant. Then, before the restaurant could hold its grand opening, it had to close for at least 10 days. Like farmers, restaurateurs put a lot on the line before they can turn a profit.

“The unknowns for so many small business owners can be catastrophic,” she said. “It’s hard to fathom how we can even get back to where we were, but it will come with time.”