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Serving: OH
A produce vendor helping customers as they wait in line at a farmers market Jennifer Kiel
PRECAUTIONS: Several measures have been established for vendors and customers this year to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while allowing consumers access to local produce, meat and other food products.

Tips for going to farmers markets during pandemic

Ohio farmers markets, farm markets and U-pick operations are open.

At this year’s farmers markets, you’ll find Ohio farmers selling the fresh foods you’re used to buying. However, there won’t be any farm-fresh food samples to taste, and the music and children’s activities that typically accompany the markets will likely be canceled.

Ohio farmers markets, farm markets and U-pick operations want guests to know they are open, that they’re taking precautions to keep consumers safe from COVID-19 and are fully stocked with locally grown and produced foods. 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted growers, local farmers and livestock producers, these groups are continuing to plant and harvest, and market foods directly to the public, says Shoshanah Inwood, assistant professor of community, food, and economic development at Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

That’s allowing consumers to maintain access to locally produced fruits, vegetables, poultry, meats and other food products during this growing season. However, there will be changes in how consumers interact with these farmers, Inwood says.

“For example, you may see vendors wearing masks and gloves, more hand sanitizing, and different people handling food and payment transactions at each stall,” Inwood says. “Busy markets may implement staggered entry, and you may notice the stalls at your local market are spread further apart, there is tape or chalk on the ground marking 6-foot distances, and/or there are separate operating hours for the vulnerable shopping population.”

OSU task force studies pandemic effect on food system

In April, the CFAES convened the Lean on Your Land-Grant Task Force to understand the impact of the pandemic on Ohio’s food system, including small- to midsized producers who sell to a range of direct markets, restaurants, institutions, retailers and wholesale outlets. The task force is also helping livestock producers, some of whom sell to the same outlets.

Comprised of OSU faculty and OSU Extension personnel, and in conversation with agricultural and food system groups and state agencies, the task force has since worked to gather the facts; identify challenges; provide guidance; answer questions farmers and producers are facing; and provide support to farmers, producers and the public where needed. OSU Extension is CFAES’ outreach arm, with personnel in all 88 Ohio counties.

“These markets play a role in jump-starting our economy that’s been hard hit by COVID-19,” Inwood says. “They’re essential not only because they provide access to fresh, healthy, local foods, but they also support strong regional economies by connecting Ohio’s urban and rural economies and communities.

“The CFAES Lean on Your Land-Grant Task Force wants to keep these farmers markets and the rest of the Ohio food system operating, and we want to make sure that farmers, customers and local decision-makers have up-to-date and accurate information. Farmers markets and roadside stands are great ways to meet the farmers who produce Ohio’s agricultural bounty, including meat, poultry, honey, eggs, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and more.”

Members of the task force have released resources including fact sheets and webinars on COVID-19’s effect on produce safety; reaching new markets; pivoting to new marketing platforms; navigating new government programs for small businesses; and guidance for farmers markets, produce auctions and U-pick operations to practice good hygiene and social distancing while doing business.

The task force also provide guidance to help markets adjust operating procedures to include social distancing; contactless order, payment, and pickup of product; and training for employees to help keep them and their customers safe, says Christie Welch, a CFAES direct food and agriculture marketing specialist.

Recommendations at the market

To help keep farmers and consumers safe, decrease the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks and ensure these markets can remain open for their full season, the task force also offers these recommendations for consumers:

• Wear a mask over your mouth and nose.

• Practice the recommended 6-foot social distance from one another while at the market.

• Prioritize only essential food purchasing, and discontinue social gatherings at the markets.

• Send only one member from your household to the market in order to keep crowd size down.

• Do not touch any products; instead, allow the vendor to select and bag the products you wish to purchase.

• Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, and clean your hands frequently.

• Discontinue the use of reusable bags and materials. Accept only new plastic bags from your farmers and food producers.

• Order directly from farmers and food producers for delivery or pickup when possible.

• Follow more stringent vendor and market guidelines, as requested.

The ultimate goal is to help farm markets, farmers markets and U-pick operations to continue to operate safely, which benefits both vendors and consumers, Welch says.

“The money spent on locally produced foods remains in the communities where the foods are purchased,” she says. “And many accept food assistance benefits to help those food-insecure Ohioans access fresh food. Another benefit is that these farmers markets and farm markets are less crowded than traditional grocery stores, and the food is usually fresher because it goes from the farm field to market to consumer.”

Turner is a technical editor for OSU CFAES.

Source: OSU CFAES, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.
 
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