A local farm in Fairfax is still going strong despite the pandemic.

Venture along Braddock Road in Centreville, Virginia, and you’ll soon come upon Cox Farms, a lovely local agribusiness that sells seasonal goods. The family has been at the Centreville location since 1979, so it’s an established local institution. Because of this, it’s understandable that many in the area are fond of the farm and all it offers.

Like many small businesses across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the farm to reconfigure their operations ahead of their Fall Festival, their most popular event. Fortunately, the owners have dealt with changes to visitor turnout in the past, particularly after the events of September 11, 2001, and the sniper threats in the year following. People were afraid to go places during those strange times, so the farm had to make plans to ensure that their tourism attractions were as safe as possible for visitors.

Obviously, the pandemic has brought about newer and different changes than before, but the Cox family has learned to adapt since it started. They have certainly had to think on their feet to make those changes, and they have resulted in significant alterations to the farm’s daily operations.

In a letter sent to farm employees in March, the owners reassured their workers that fortunately, they were doing well enough financially to continue providing salaries. The farm is one of the luckier small businesses out there that has not suffered significant financial setbacks due to the pandemic.

Even though the farm and all of its attractions are primarily outdoors, there were still safety concerns to address approaching the fall festivities. During the summer, along with regular social distancing protocols—which are easy enough in an outdoor setting—the regular staff had limited hours working on-site at the farm, and were paid to stay at home. The owners implemented shorter shift times and only allowed employees to have one work partner to limit contact with others. The Fall Festival and haunted field events had to be closed, unfortunately.

And it wasn’t only the employees that they thought of, of course. Cox Farms’ Fall Festival is its most popular event, and hard work was needed to ensure that visitors could still enjoy what the farm provides. On the food and goods side of things, patrons of the farm could place online orders for the staple apple cider donuts (they’re delicious!), various homemade jams and jellies, and pumpkins from the pumpkin patch, to be picked up later curbside at the drive-through market (like many restaurants chose to do).

I visited the farm for its Fall Festival back in 2018, and my favorite part of the whole event was the hayride. When I first heard about the farm changing things up for the 2020 season, I was impressed to hear that they were keeping their hayride and transforming it into a “self-driven” hayride! Visitors would go through the hayride route in their own cars and still get to see the fun things they would have seen on the regular ride.

Here I am in 2018 at Foamhenge, a foam replica of Stonehenge that you can see along the hayride route at the farm.

A replica of Stonehenge
Courtesy of the author

One part of the farm that hasn’t been affected by the changes at all is its animals. The farm has an interactive area where patrons can feed and pet goats (see my photo below), and though they had a shortage of visitors this year, the owner assures that the goats and the rest of the animals are still getting the care and attention they need. New baby goats were born this past spring, and the owner says they have been getting quite spoiled by the staff.

Female human petting small goat
Courtesy of the author

Since it’s looking as though the holiday season will be just like the fall, the farm is keeping its operations as they are for their Christmas market, swapping out their pumpkins for Christmas trees and putting Santa hats on all their mascots. Even the self-driven hayride is continuing, with Christmas-themed sets.

Aaron Cox-Leow offers the following advice to other small business owners: as you navigate the obstacles of the pandemic, don’t forget to live your values. Think about how you’ll look back on yourself and your business in five years, and ask yourself if you’ll regret how things went.

Ultimately, many small businesses have struggled as a result of COVID-19. Cox Farms is unique in its situation of being a family-owned farm without a storefront, so other small businesses aren’t in the same place. However, the main example to follow here is the dedication to the staff and careful consideration with which the owners planned how to take care of everything. That’s a lesson many business owners can take with them.

Learn about what Cox Farms are selling in their Corner Market this holiday season by visiting their website here, and be sure to also follow them on Facebook!