With all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, it’s a good practice to control the things you can and forget the rest, says Sarah Zastrow, mental health and stress expert. “In essence, we should pick our battles," she advises.
“For starters, consumers can take control of where they shop for needed food essentials, including produce and meat supplies,” says Zastrow, the founder of Bay Area Wellness and Cultivate Balance.
Specializing in helping people deal with pain, stress and mental health, Zastrow grew up on a farm, and her involvement in agriculture continues today, as she and her husband operate a crop farm near Midland, Mich.
“While grocery stores are working diligently to keep food and products stocked and stores cleaned, supply chain disruptions have challenged many retailers,” Zastrow says. “Whether you shop at your neighbor’s roadside farm stand or the local farmers market, shopping local is best.”
Many consumers seeking alternative sources for fresh produce and meats are rediscovering the benefits and experience of shopping at a local farmers market, says Amanda Shreve, executive director for the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA).
Many farmers markets are either open or soon will be opening for the season, says Shreve, and they are happy to provide high-quality, local produce through the COVID-19 pandemic and long after.
“Michigan is home to more than 300 farmers markets,” Shreve says. “Each market will make important decisions about how and when to open for the season with the safety of their vendors, employees and patrons in mind.”
Shreve says that MIFMA has been proactively working with the state’s farmers markets to implement and promote additional safe operating procedures and social distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
MIFMA has provided farm marketers online access to a “COVID-19 Safety at the Farmers Market” poster than can be downloaded, printed and displayed in local markets, in preparation of opening for the 2020 season.
The goal, Shreve says, is to promote safety for consumers, farmers market employees and owner-operators.
“Farmers market are all dedicated to ensuring shoppers have access to healthy, locally grown food and other high-quality products,” Shreve says. “MIFMA has put together an entire webpage of operating procedures and considerations to share with farmers markets in Michigan during this period of heightened public safety.”
Tips for shoppers
How can you ensure your safety when shopping at your neighborhood farmers market? When possible, Shreve recommends the following:
- Maintain 6 feet of space between you and other shoppers.
- Like it or not, don’t shake hands with vendors.
- Frequently wash your hands, clean surfaces such as your cellphone, wallet or purse and avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or upper arm when you cough or sneeze.
- If you feel sick, stay home to protect yourself and other shoppers from potential risk.
"Shopping at farmers markets may look and feel different this year; however, markets continue to be a safe way to access fresh, local products brought to you by your neighbors,” Shreve adds.
With some farmers markets kicking off their market seasons, Zastrow and Shreve suggest several reasons to consider shopping local to reduce stress and anxiety:
By shopping local, you know where your food comes from. Buying food from the person who grew it means you don’t have to worry about where it came from, what’s in it, or how it was grown because you can meet the farmer, say hello and ask questions about the food.
Less is more — so much more. When shopping local at farm stands and markets, there’s less packaging, less handling, less shipping, and ultimately fewer people touching your food.
You are supporting your local economy. When spending money with local farmers, your dollar goes back into your local economy. Shopping local will benefit you and your local community.
To find a market in your community, visit mifma.org/findafarmersmarket. Shreve notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, hours of the market are subject to change. Before going to the market, you’re encouraged to go to the market’s website or social media page, or contact it directly to ensure the market is open.