Farmers markets urged to remain open during health emergency

Farm and Food
Small Towns

By Eric Galatas, Public News Service (NE)

Local and state governments across the U.S. are joining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's call to categorize farmers markets as essential businesses.

The move would ensure that the markets remain open, just like grocery stores, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Alexis Massie, who manages the North Platte Farmers Market, says the state's farm stores, markets and roadside stands are critical infrastructure, and about as essential as it gets, because everyone needs food.

"What better way to get it than getting it local, and knowing where your food came from," she states. "You go to the big chain stores, you have no idea where that pound of hamburger you're feeding to your children came from. You come to market, you know exactly where it came from."

Massie says markets will follow all CDC guidelines to ensure customer safety, including maintaining social distancing, adding hand-sanitizing stations, only allowing vendors to touch produce, and creating drive-by, pick-up and delivery options where possible.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and CDC guidances report no evidence so far that COVID-19 is spread through food, food packaging, or as a foodborne illness.

Justin Carter, project associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says markets and roadside stands also are an important way to support local economies and family farms.

"A lot of farmers market vendors don't get into retail spaces, they don't get into a lot of larger markets, so their income opportunities are somewhat limited," he points out. "We're talking about our local economies here, so I would really encourage people to support those individuals."

Farmers market produce can also help Nebraskans maintain good health. Because produce typically travels from garden to farm stand in 24 to 48 hours, farmers say fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be more nutrient rich compared with their supermarket counterparts because produce grown at industrial-scale can travel in refrigerated trucks for weeks.