The CDC recommends that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it’s difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people without symptoms or people who do not know they have contracted the virus. Cloth face masks should be worn while continuing to practice social distancing. Instructions for making masks at home can be found here. Note: It’s critical to reserve surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers.
As a farmers market manager, I notice some shoppers let one word determine who they purchase from. They fixate on it and ask me, whenever they don’t see enough of it, why there aren’t more of these farmers.
The word is “organic.”
To most people, eating organic means eating food that isn’t produced with “chemicals” (usually man-made chemicals), pesticides, or artificial means. But sometimes, even with all certified and non-certified organic farmers on-site, I get complaints that there aren’t enough.
To those shoppers, I give an abridged explanation: A farm must be “certified organic” in order to state they grow organically. Not only does this process require 3 years of managing the land without prohibited substances, farmers would also need plenty of cash flow for the certification process.
As a result, many farmers resort to posting signs saying “No Spray” or “No Chemicals.” (Self-labeling as organic leads to being fined by the Agricultural Department.)
Shoppers who listen and tell me they haven’t realized how complex our food system is, and to that, I feel good about being able to communicate on behalf of small-time farmers.
But sometimes there are patrons who aren’t interested in explanations. They reiterate, “you need more organic farmers or I’ll go elsewhere.” It’s this rude behavior that sticks out to me, as a failure to acknowledge all the work involved with creating a place where you can buy directly from a farmer.
A farmers market is meant to be an enjoyable shopping experience for the community and there’s a lot of invisible work that goes into making it happen.
All the new farmers and food vendors, musicians, and set up plus take down involved, requires maintaining good relationships with the city, because they’re the ones who allow the space, and neighboring residents.
The made-to-order crepes you like? The Fire Department requires the vendor to have a fire extinguisher on hand and a very specific tent style before they’re allowed on the premises.
Even sampling, such as enjoying hummus on flatbread or artisanal goat cheese, is overseen by the Health Department to make sure no one gets sick. And the Agricultural Department regulates what a farmer can bring to the market. If celery or blood oranges aren’t listed on their Certified Producer Certificate, farmers can’t suddenly bring new crops either, no matter how fresh they are.
Those are just a few of the things I check while I make my rounds right before the market opens. If a seller comes unprepared or tries to skirt the rules, I give them a warning and come back around to make sure they’re compliant.
Sure, it might sound harsh, but when you think about the safety rules, it’s standard hygiene. Plus, if the Agriculture, Fire, and Health Departments do their surprise audit — which is a minimum of one per market each year, and possibly more if there were compliance issues the first time — and find the seller isn’t complying, both seller and market organizers can get fined.
And there are just some days where things don’t go according to plan.
Now with COVID-19, markets are navigating new territory, working with cities and health departments to take precautions and provide a safe space for customers and farmers.
Your markets will likely be smaller and not as lively as everyone adapts to new safety protocols. You might also no longer be able to pick out produce yourself; or there may be pick-up points to minimize interactions and direct exchange. Samples will probably no longer be available.
For a long time, each market will be different. Your community will feel different.
Eventually farmers markets will return with magic. One day I’ll be able to witness what gets me up in at 5 a.m. in the morning, what I love most again about farmers markets: kids dance by the music booth and customers connecting with farmers over in-season fruit.
But, for now, let’s keep each other safe by practicing social distancing while maintaining our community connection because now, more than ever, is the time to continue to support local growers — even if it means coming every other week instead of every single one, or being more patient as you maintain a six-foot distance.
Many farmers only sell at markets and don’t have other revenue streams in place so being considerate while you shop so the city doesn’t shut them down will help farmers maintain their livelihood.
And if a manager or market crew happens to look chill and relaxed, remember they’ve likely been running around all morning (or afternoon) to set up heavy tables and tents, navigate traffic, and will also have to take it all down later, too.
So if you have the chance — especially now — we’d be delighted to hear a thank you.