OHIO | Ohio State offers tips for vendors, consumers when shopping at farmers markets amid COVID-19

The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES)

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 you-pick operations want you to know they are open, they’re taking precautions to keep consumers safe from COVID-19, and they’re 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, harvest, and market foods directly to the public, said Shoshanah Inwood, assistant professor of community, food, and economic development at The 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 at farmers markets, farm markets, and you-pick operations, Inwood said.

As a result, you’ll likely see some measures put into practice for everyone’s safety in response to the coronavirus pandemic, she said.

“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 said. “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.”

To help these essential food producers as well as consumers adapt as a result of the pandemic, CFAES convened a task force in April designed to address the needs of specialty crop growers, livestock producers, and other food system stakeholders.

The CFAES Lean on Your Land Grant Task Force was convened to understand the impact of the pandemic on Ohio’s food system, including small- to mid-sized 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.

Composed of Ohio State faculty and Ohio State University 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 said. “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, 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 you-pick operations to practice good hygiene and social distancing while doing business.

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

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 distancing 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 curtail crowds.
  • Do not touch any products; instead, allow the vendor to select and bag the products you wish to purchase.
  • Follow the 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 you-pick operations to continue to operate safely, which benefits both vendors and consumers, Welch said.

“The money spent on locally produced foods remains in the communities where the foods are purchased,” she said. “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.”

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