Support local farmers by shopping at your farmers market during the coronavirus pandemic. Just follow these smart shopping tips to avoid germs as you grab your garden-fresh eats.

By Karla Walsh
April 17, 2020
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The coronavirus pandemic isn’t just impacting the way we shop for pantry staples and the demand for toilet paper. It’s also causing many farmers markets to adjust their formats and sales strategies to account for social distancing and additional safety measures. Hundreds of large regional markets have opted to close completely (which will lead to an expected $688.7 million decline in sales in the local economy, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition). In an attempt to still serve their community and limit food waste, many farmers are adjusting their models for these unprecedented times.

“People need to eat and want healthy food. I have seen an increase in sales from current customers, but we are also gaining new customers,” says Jenny Quiner, owner of Dogpatch Urban Gardens in Des Moines, Iowa. “Our goal is to adjust the farm business to be accommodating to as many people as possible and to keep us all safe.”

With that in mind, Quiner launched an online store in early April to share her produce until the local farmers market decides to open for the season, which will likely be late May at the earliest.

“Customers can purchase items on our website, pay for them online, then accept them up via contactless pickup. Customers stay in their cars, while gloved and masked staff place their orders in their trunk of their car. We also offer home deliveries for a $10 delivery fee,” Quiner says. “This has been a learning curve, but it is working really well and the average amount spent per customer is actually much higher.”

These no-contact farmstand orders are a fantastic solution to stock up on fresh, local fruits and vegetables while supporting your neighbors. But if your local vendors still happen to be open at a larger farmers market, you can still shop there safely.  (P.S. Many can’t afford enough to feed their families. Here’s how to help your local food bank during the pandemic.)

North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which organizes four markets across the state, and FRESHFARM, a non-profit that coordinates farmers markets across the mid-Atlantic states, have implemented the following vendor rules. Many other farmers markets across the country have similar strategies during the pandemic. 

  • No sampling or food preparation on site, and all products must be pre-packaged to limit customer handling.
  • All staff must use gloves and wear masks that meet CDC recommendations, plus wash or sanitize hands at least once an hour. (Here’s how to make your own no-sew face mask, in case you don’t have one yet.)
  • While cash can be used for payment, a designated staff person should handle payment. If possible, contactless pay, pre-order and pickup, and other low-touch options are preferred.
  • Share on social media and post signs at the market to promote six feet of social distancing.
  • Limit shoppers to 50 or fewer people at one time and redesign the farmers market layout to increase social space, if possible.
Mature woman shopping in a farmers market
Credit: chabybucko/Getty Images

7 Ways to Shop Safely at the Farmers Market During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Per The Farmers Market Coalition (and co-signed by a CDC spokesperson), here's what you can do as a consumer to stay safe at farmers markets. Many of the suggestions align with our tips for how to be a safe and responsible grocery shopper right now, according to health experts.

  1. Make it speedy. Buy only what you need and aim to keep your visit less than 30 minutes. Don’t chat, browse, or meander more than necessary.
  2. Go alone. As much as we love seeing your cute pup or baby, this is not the time to bring them along. Send one healthy, non-senior, who is not immunocompromised to shop for the family. And if you’re feeling unwell, have a fever or cough, or may have been exposed to the coronavirus, stay home.
  3. Wear a mask and keep your distance. Follow six-feet social distancing guidelines, especially when in line to purchase your items, and wear a CDC-approved face covering from the time you enter to the time you leave the market (and any time you’re in public).
  4. Pre-order, if possible. Check the website and social media pages of the market and your favorite vendors to see if you can pre-order and/or coordinate a contact-free pickup. 
  5. Adjust your schedule to avoid crowds. Attendance is generally lower later in the day, so try to attend the market then if you can. If your farmers market is open throughout the week, opt for weekdays; Wednesdays and Thursdays tend to be quiet for many food retailers.
  6. Have a list. Channel your inner Santa and make a list, then check it twice. This will help you limit your time at the market, and your time exposing yourself and others to potential germs.
  7. Dine at home. During a normal farmers market season, we love sampling the jams and grabbing a breakfast burrito as much as the next shopper. But for now, skip any snacking while in public and only eat once you’re at home (and after you have washed your hands).

While the jury is still out on if you can bring reusable bags, stick to disposable for now just to be safe. Some markets have banned reusable ones for sanitary concerns. Otherwise, keep calm and shop on using these safety pointers.

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