Is It Safe To Shop At Farmers Markets During The Pandemic?

farmers market lettuce

With the growing season in “full bloom” and pandemic restrictions loosening, many seasonal farmers markets are in operation in communities across the nation. 

Fresh berries at a market
Fresh berries at a market

Buying local is always appealing. You know where your food is sourced, and can usually count on better quality when the source is closer to home.

And during the pandemic, there’s another compelling reason to buy local:  Purchasing food from small farmers, cheesemongers, fishmongers and other vendors at local markets can be vital to the economic survival of these small businesses; many of whom are likely to have lost restaurant and retail accounts.

Although this all sounds encouraging, you may be wondering whether it is safe to shop at farmers markets during the pandemic. The good news is that most markets have instituted new rules to improve health and sanitation, and also to make shoppers feel more confident. 

farmers market - Different varieties of lettuce
Different varieties of lettuce

What to expect at a farmers market during the pandemic

Here is what to expect when you visit a farmers market during the pandemic:

Changed hours of operation

  • Before you go, check the hours of operation. Schedules may be modified and some markets are reserving special shopping times for senior citizens and patrons who are immunocompromised.
  • Also, be sure to read the market’s updated information with some of the new COVID-19 shopping rules and protocols that have been put into place.  

Social distancing

  • Markets are reconfiguring food stands to make sure aisles are wide enough to permit 6’ between people.
  • Access to the market may be changed and shoppers asked to stand in socially distanced lines to limit the number of people entering at once.

New signage

  • You’ll probably see new signage and taped floors reminding you of basics like hand-washing, wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

A changed social experience 

  • In a major departure from past practice, shoppers are being asked to make their purchases and leave, rather than linger. The mantra: Keep your market shopping brief and purposeful. 
  • Shoppers are being discouraged from bringing along friends and/or family; instead, one solitary individual should act as a “designated shopper.”

Masks and gloves

  • Depending on local government and market regulations, vendors are likely to be wearing face coverings and wear gloves. Shoppers should do the same.
  • Don’t even try to feel the tomatoes. Shoppers are being discouraged from touching foods.

Other efforts to mitigate infection

  • Vendors who show any signs or symptoms of coronavirus (or who may have been exposed to someone with the virus) are encouraged to stay home. Some markets are now waiving penalties for non-attendance.
  • Of course, the same stay-away-when-sick policy should be adhered to by shoppers. 
  • Some markets are offering new hand-washing/sanitizing stations.

Changed payment policies

  • More markets and individual vendors are switching to “contactless” credit payments in lieu of cash.

Pre-ordering options

  • Many markets are Introducing online pre-ordering (for pick-up) to save time and minimize contact.

Pricing changes

As is the case at most supermarkets and convenience stores, you will probably notice an increase in prices at farmers markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of food-at-home prices has increased 2.4 percent in 2020 over the year before. This is because many market operators and other food sellers are operating at increased costs and decreased revenues during the pandemic.

Fresh plums at a farmers market (credit: Pixabay)
Fresh plums at a market (credit: Pixabay)


The Bottom Line

Keeping farmers markets safe is a shared responsibility between vendors and shoppers. Markets are trying to do their part and you need to do yours. This means following the recommended public health precautions, including maintaining social distance and wearing masks.

“There are benefits to visiting a farmers market in light of coronavirus in terms of the fact that you’re outside, there’s fresh air moving and the supply chain is shorter,” said Yvonne Michael, an epidemiologist at Drexel University School of Public Health. “…so I would definitely encourage people during the coronavirus to visit a farmers market.”

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  1. I was so grateful when our Farmer’s Market reopened as I’m very happy to support our local farmers and vendors. The only challenge has been keeping up with the changing conditions such as different hours and requirements. Also there are fewer vendors which I hope will improve once it’s more worthwhile for them to set up shop again.

  2. Thanks for reminding people that there are still safe options for shopping available. It is up to all of us to practice safety when going out into public spaces. That being said, it should not prevent us from finding fresh food.

  3. The regular markets here in the Netherlands didn’t close down for long. They’ve added cordons at each stall to keep lines separated, but no one is wearing masks and few of the vendors are wearing gloves. Some, but not all, are being strict on the “Don’t touch the produce” rule, but some aren’t. Payment is almost always contactless, and the vendors are usually quite far from the customer with the display of produce in between them. I just buy what I need, try not to touch my face, and wash my hands as soon as I get home. Sometimes I wash the produce, but I haven’t been bothering when I’ve bought it from a strict stall or when they took the produce from the display behind them that isn’t reachable by the general public. Weird, isn’t it, to feel like just going to the market is risky?

  4. Our little farmer’s market has a sign: “We wear masks to protect you. You must wear a mask to protect us.” Next to the sign are hand-made masks for sale. It is the one place everyone wears a mask! I love seeing the same people selling their produce and the whole process is good for my morale. I suspect the farmers appreciate their customers as well.

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