A farewell from Franklin Journal Staff Reporter Andrea Swiedom. Photo Courtesy of Andrea Swiedom

APRIL 2020 — Grocery shoppers breathing through gas masks and changing gloves between their selection of a green bell pepper and bunches of cilantro.

The feeling that maybe I shouldn’t touch produce that has been handled by dozens of hands from the swaths of agricultural fields in Salinas Valley, California to the packaging and distribution centers, to the 18-wheeler cold storage trucks eventually unloading at a Hannaford distribution center where the produce is redistributed to a giant walk-in refrigerator at the Farmington store to be placed neatly by anonymous hands on the cold shelf in front of me while Shania Twain belts out over the speaker that she’s gonna get me. 

This is what I remember last year. I also remember feeling ashamed that I could not only purchase but choose from a selection of internationally grown produce in Farmington, Maine, during a pandemic. 

Now we have a year’s worth of data and testimony-based research that indicates agricultural workers in central California have avoided COVID-19 tests out of fear of permanently losing their jobs. 

I lost all three of my jobs last May while finishing my last semester at the University of Maine at Farmington. I was a server at The Homestead, an academic mentor and an office assistant. I had sculpted these positions perfectly around a tight schedule that allowed me to take classes full time and if I was lucky, get six hours of sleep so I could pay rent, bills and buy a few drinks at Tuck’s Tavern after work every once in a while.  

applied for unemployment and was denied because of some snafu in paperwork. The bureaucratic response from the Department of Labor was incomprehensible to me. I stayed on hold for three hours for a week straight only to be disconnected every day. Rent was almost due. Credit Card bills 


MAY 2021 — BBQ’d drumsticks on a little Weber grill. A Styrofoam and cellophane package of chicken for $2.82 fed three of us plus leftovers for lunch the next day. 

AUGUST 2020 — At least eight people in Merced County, CA have died from COVID-19. They contracted the coronavirus from working at the Foster Farm Poultry Factory (I call it a factory as opposed to a farm because the aerial view of the plant is all pavement and steel as if I were staring at the Androscoggin Mill). It’s California’s largest outbreak on a farm so far where 392 workers tested positive out of 3,700. 

JUNE 2020 — Last summer, my go-to, pandemic-easing pleasure was The Ice Cream Shoppe’s homemade pistachio ice cream slathered in hot fudge with a cherry stem peeking out from a cloud of whipped cream.   

Last summer, there were 50 employees from a Primex pistachio farm in Wasco, California who went on strike. They learned from local news coverage as opposed to their employer that there was an outbreak at their place of employment. There were 150 employees who tested positive along with 65 of their family members.  

MAY 11, 2020 — Former President Donald Trump tweets, “Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better, going down almost everywhere. Big progress being made!” and I apply for the Franklin Journal’s reporter position. 

Why did I apply for this position? I was never interested in writing for a newspaper, although journalism has been an interest that I’ve dappled in here and there.  


First of all, I needed a job. Secondly, it was unclear whether I should just be following the president’s lead and taking shots of hydroxychloroquine while this whole thing blew over. Or, whether I should be cautious and look for a position that allowed me to work from home and just lay low, avoid physical contact with the outside world. I went with the latter as there was no hydroxychloroquine to be found in the medicine cabinet. 

What was ironic about this professional opportunity is that I have long held skepticism and frustration for media tactics in the United States. Yet, over this past year, I have been the media. Here is what I have learned. 

The media is like vegetables. When you’re seven, vegetables are gross. You don’t want to consume them. You even yell and scream to avoid consuming them. 

The first time I ventured out for in-person interviews was in Livermore Falls at Stevie J’s Burgers and Burritos last July. I asked some customers how they felt about going to take-out style restaurants as opposed to dine-in style restaurants during the pandemic. 

“Fake news!” were the only two words I received from one of the men.  

I asked for clarification, “What are you referring to?” 


He mumbled, “the virus, all of it, fake news.” 

When I was seven, my father would sit through my vegetable tantrum. When I exhausted myself, he offered me the option to finish my plate one last time (I always refused), and then he would store my plate in the fridge. The next morning, he sat in front of me with my cold dinner and waited until I had finished my vegetables.  

I’m 29 now. I’ve gone to culinary school, cooked in restaurants and was a private chef on a sailing yacht. Now, not only cook damn good vegetables but my body even tells me when it’s in need of more chlorophyll, beta-carotene and anthocyanin.  

The media is gross in the way that a cold can of asparagus is gross. It’s not pleasant, it doesn’t taste good, it’s mushy. But the idea of it — some nutritious spears to accompany other food groups — is a good one. 

If you incorporate commonsense approach, you’ll have a lovely experience with asparagus: purchase a fresh bundle, snap the woody ends off the spears (they’ll break naturally) and toss them into a pot of salted, boiling water for 30 seconds. Then instantly cool the spheres in ice water. You’ll have blanched asparagus. The process retains the vegetables’ vibrant chlorophyll, seasons the spheres and maintains a crisp texture. 

There’s a lot of canned asparagus media. It’s sensationalized, it’s rushed, it’s lacking diverse perspectives. Articles often include data conducted by organizations that are financed by private corporations that also pay Google to be the first result that pops up in a search 


Part of this is the incredible shift we’re experiencing from print material to digital. People have quickly become so accustomed to the flood of information they can access in the palm of their hand that they forget the time it takes to accurately and thoroughly research and investigate a topic. 

And in that immediately accessible flood of information is a multitude of slimy, grey-green, drooping spears of asparagus popping up in your news feed. Some of these platforms have canned asparagus algorithms stalking you. For me, it’s articles about Hillary Duff’s home water-birth, gluten/dairy/everything-free banana muffin recipes and updates on student loan debt cancellation. 

It’s time to take control. I’m preaching as much to you as I am to myself. Take control of what you consume. Take responsibility for what you consume. Teach yourself how to consume. Recognize not just media companies, but individual writers who are taking the time to investigate and are using sources you haven’t heard from before. And if you have skeptical/conspiracy theory-leanings, pay attention to writers who are contrasting government data with data from organizations that are not financed by the wealthiest people in this country who have political seats to win and products to sell. 

When I started this job, the “fake news” comment infuriated me. But it took me a year of working in journalism to understand why.  

The avoidance to media with the “fake news” sentiment is as much a cop out from informing ourselves as is reading one article from your daily news feed and regurgitating it on your Facebook feed which then virally spreads amongst your virtual community. It’s lameirresponsible and ignores the ethical issues wrapped up in mass-produced information on a hyper-speed scale. 

Our lives are more interconnected than they have ever been and as consumers who are constantly being manipulated to consume in a particular way for the profit of a select few, it’s important we don’t tweet, post or even converse before we take some time to understand and process these connections. And ask more questions and try to answer them with some genuine effort.  


Where did last weekend’s cheap chicken come from that I grilled for some friends? Was it from a factory farm that refused to offer its employees PPE during the pandemic? Was it from a company that was so hush-hush about COVID-19 cases among its staff that local news sources had to break the seal of silence? Does boycotting factory farm chicken actually help people working at these plants, or will it only result in profit drops which the company will translate into job cuts? (And yes, I know, there is a whole other ethical argument about factory-produced chicken, look for a follow up.)  

This year of reporting has taught me that uncovering one issue often reveals multiple offshoots of ethical dilemmas that humans are either manipulating, ignoring or trying to resolve.  

I now believe that journalism has a pivotal role to play in our society’s future because if it is done with good intention and self-awareness, journalism will explore all of these crevices and tell the convoluted story. Good journalism will sweep out the cobwebs of a story as best as the writer or team of writers can under their own pressures of deadlines, pay and access to information. Good journalism will make us question that cellophane-sealed chicken purchase. Good journalism will haunt us on a daily basis, every time we reach for our wallets. 

I hope to produce this type of journalism one day. I’m not there yet. I need more practice, more feedback from readers, more education. But hopefully by the time I am producing good journalism, more of us are blanching asparagus. 


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