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Navigating Local Farmers Markets In The Age Of COVID-19

Know the dos and don’ts before you head to your favorite outdoor market.

With the Indiana State Fair canceled, outdoor concerts on hold, and popular food festivals like Baby Got Brunch possibly sitting it out until next year, farmers markets are among the few sanctioned public events during the summer of 2020. The markets are classified as essential services during COVID-19, and though most are up and running now, they look different than they did in 2019.

What can you expect when you’re shopping at your local farmers market? There are no statewide regulations specific to farmers markets during COVID, but most county health departments have requirements that markets and vendors must follow. Many market organizers urge shoppers to follow CDC recommendations to minimize the risk of virus transmission. Each county is a little different, but there are several things you’ll see almost across the board. If you follow market guidelines and practice common sense, you can still have a fun and fulfilling shopping experience. (Along with the obvious benefit of direct support to local farmers and food producers with your dollars.)

Garfield Park Farmers Market founder Ashley Brooks sees the markets, with their wide open shopping spaces and outdoor environments, as a safe way to re-emerge after a time of isolation that was challenging for everyone. “We really need that sense of community right now,” says Brooks. “It’s good for our mental and emotional wellness. Come to the market to see people and feel good, but do it in a responsible way.”As COVID data rolls in and government orders shift, things can change from week to week at individual markets, but here are some of the common dos and don’ts for visiting your favorite local Indiana market this summer:

Do:

Look for signs of what’s expected of shoppers at the market.

Most markets have outlined their COVID policies at entrances or around the property, and many include them on their websites. Read them before you shop so you’ll be able to enjoy your trip.

Verify that your market is in the same location as last year.

Some markets have moved to bigger outdoor spaces this summer to allow for more room between vendors and wider pedestrian walkways. Check the social media feed or website of your favorite market to verify its 2020 whereabouts before you head out.

Preorder if possible.

Many vendors are offering preorders for the first time, allowing you to select and pay for your items online or via social media in advance. This allows for quicker interaction at the market, and zero-contact payment. Check individual markets and vendors for details on preorder availability and options.

Wear a mask.

The CDC recommends wearing a mask in public spaces, and although Indiana doesn’t require it, most markets recommend it for shoppers (and many require it for vendors). If you forget yours at home, many sell them on site.

Pay attention to physical distancing.

Most markets are asking people to follow the CDC recommendations of six feet between shoppers when possible, and many have chalk markings or orange cones set up to serve as guideposts. Look for these at individual booths to make sure you’re aware of your surroundings.

Look for new pedestrian traffic flow patterns.

Many markets have instituted one-way pathways for shoppers to reduce crowding. Look around your market and make sure you’re aware of the pedestrian traffic pattern, and turn around if you realize you’re going the wrong way.

Carry hand sanitizer.

Many markets and vendors have hand sanitizer available for shoppers, but it’s not guaranteed. Since many public restrooms are closed right now, public hand-washing stations may not be available.

Ask before you touch any produce or other products.

This is not the summer to manhandle produce and decide which peach is the perfect one for you. Many markets and vendors have strict rules about it this summer, and are asking shoppers to point to the products they wish to take a closer look at or buy. (Gloved vendors then pick it up and package it for you.) It’s not ideal if you’re a fan of smelling those tomatoes before you buy them, but we’re in a pandemic, friends. Trust your vendor to pick out a good one for you. (Also, maybe don’t hold them up to your nose when this is all over, either. The times, they are a-changin’.)

Limit the number of people in your party.

Just as grocery stores have requested that people not shop in groups, many markets are asking the same thing right now. If you want to bring your family, consider having them hang out in a greenspace nearby while you do your shopping.

Check to see if there are special shopping times for elderly or immunocompromised populations.

Some markets reserve the opening hour for high-risk customers. Respect the request to wait for your shopping (unless you or your family member is high-risk).

Be prepared for no-contact payment possibilities. 

Individual vendors decide how they’ll accept payment for their products, and while most accept various forms (cash, credit, or SNAP), some have limited the option to no-contact payment only.

Leave your dog at home.

Even most of the markets that allowed furry friends in the past have had to suspend that privilege this year due to local health department regulations. Furry friends are cute, but they tend to draw crowds of people, which can upend the pedestrian traffic flow and physical distancing guideposts.

Go to the bathroom before you leave the house.

Many public restrooms are closed during COVID. Plan accordingly.

Know that market protocols can (and likely will) change.

As COVID data changes (for better or worse), expect to see modifications at your market. If cases drop, local health departments may ease restrictions. If cases go up, they may be more strict about what’s required of vendors and shoppers.

Don’t:

… be a jerk. That’s it. Just do your best to be a decent human. This is uncharted territory for everyone. Market organizers need to keep everyone safe, farmers and food vendors are trying to stay afloat during a very challenging economic time, and shoppers are learning how to balance a desire to “get back to normal” with the reality of life in a global pandemic. We’re all in this together. Let’s act like it.

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