Restrictions on social activity and shopping put in place over concerns about the viral outbreak are easing in many areas, and numerous local farmers’ markets are set to open just in time for their busy season.
Farmers’ markets are inherently a social experience. They put local growers into direct contact with customers who want to know exactly where their food is produced. They are also cost-effective ways for farmers to get their products directly in the hands of consumers — without going through a retailer in the middle. That puts more profits directly in the pockets of the farmers.
The direct-to-consumer marketing also allows customers to purchase foodstuffs at a reduced cost, which could be increasingly important as consumers try to fill the gaps in what’s available at their local grocer’s or combat rising food prices. The value of farmers’ markets in that regard was made clear in Indiana, at least, when the state declared them to be essential services despite the “Stay at Home” orders.
None of that, however, means that you can throw caution to the wind and go about business as usual. Outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus may be slowing, but they’re not over. If you’re among the many who can’t wait to browse your local farmers’ market, here’s what you need to keep in mind.
Explore No-Contact Ordering
Maybe you really want to take advantage of the offerings at your local farmers’ market, but you’re just not ready to break social distancing yet to do it. Or, maybe you have a health condition that leaves you immunocompromised or otherwise in a high-risk category and your doctor has ordered you to stay away.
What can you do? Well, farmers’ markets around the country have been getting creative in order to meet the needs of both vendors and customers while still operating responsibly. Quite a few are offering contactless pick-ups.
For example, the Bloomington Online Farmers’ Market right here in Indiana has been encouraging patrons to place their orders online and prepay. Then, they can literally drive right up to the market at the appointed time and collect their meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, baked goods and more without ever stepping out of their vehicles. It’s a great way to allow everyone access to the items they want without endangering their health.
Shop While Practicing Social Distancing
Another route that many farmers’ markets are taking is reopening — albeit in a restricted fashion that keeps the need for social distancing in mind. If the farmers’ markets in Fishers or Broad Ripple can be held as an example, here’s what you can expect if you decide to go:
- Patrons will be required to enter and exit the markets from a fixed location, rather than milling around the way that they’re probably accustomed to doing in the past.
- The selection of items for sale may be somewhat different than what you’re used to seeing. Expect items to be limited to essential items, like prepared food, hand-made masks, soaps and produce.
- Look for “social distancing markers” that will help guide you and keep you a respectful distance from vendors and other customers, to reduce the chance of contagion.
- There will be nowhere to consume food while on the premises and there will be no portable restrooms available for use, so it’s important to plan accordingly.
- Don’t expect to touch your food or produce before you buy. While this might disappoint some dedicated “melon thumpers” this year, most markets will be asking customers to refrain from touching the items for sale.
- Don’t expect to get change back for your purchases. While many vendors will still accept cash, they won’t be able to make change. Take your debit card, SNAP card or a variety of small bills with you when you go.
- Leave the reusable bags at home. If you do take a reusable bag, you’ll likely be asked to put your purchases inside the bag yourself.
It’s also smart to understand that a lot of farmers’ markets are still adjusting and adapting to their new realities — and everything is still in flux. The Original Farmers’ Market at City Market, for example, will only offer prepackaged food items and has eliminated home-based vendors. Rules may shift and change quite a bit as the various markets learn what works (and what doesn’t) for their new setups.
Use Personal Safety Measures
Finally, you need to also take a few steps to help reduce the chances that you’ll either spread the virus or contract it. A farmers’ market is no more dangerous than shopping at a grocery store if you remember these rules:
- Wear a mask. While cloth face masks don’t offer 100% protection from the virus, the CDC recommends them in public to help prevent people from unknowingly transmitting the virus to others when they’re asymptomatic. Indeed, you’re likely to be required to wear one in order to attend just about any farmers’ market you can find — so go prepared.
- Take hand sanitizer or cleaning wipes with you. If you have Clorox wipes or hand sanitizer, put some in your car so that you can wipe your hands, car door handle, steering wheel and debit card down after you are done shopping.
- Don’t take anybody unnecessary with you on the trip. Most farmers’ markets won’t be allowing dogs inside this year, so leave your pet at home. It’s also smarter to limit the number of people from your household who make the trip, just like you do at retail stores.
- Remember not to touch your face until you can wash your hands. Wash all of your produce when you get home and discard your bags (or wash the reusable ones).
The need for social distancing won’t last forever. While it does, we can all make things operate a little smoother — and keep each other a little safer — by remembering the truly cooperative spirit that farmers’ markets embody. We’re all in this together.