Shop safely, farmers markets are essential

Neighborhood Roots market manager Sarah Woutat
Neighborhood Roots market manager Sarah Woutat sanitizes the plexiglass shield of the market’s info booth during the zero-contact farmers market held April 23 in the parking lot of Bachman’s on Lyndale. Submitted photo

What do we do when a global pandemic hits right before farmers market season? We innovate.

On March 13, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency across the state of Minnesota. At the time, many farmers markets were still operating indoor winter markets. At Neighborhood Roots (the nonprofit that runs Kingfield, Fulton and Nokomis farmers markets in South Minneapolis), we had our last winter market of the season scheduled the next day, March 14. 

An emergency board meeting took place via video conference to decide how to proceed. The volunteer board weighed the economic cost for vendors versus the public health risk of convening hundreds of customers from across the Twin Cities and dozens of farmers from rural areas inside a greenhouse at Bachman’s. We decided to cancel the market, despite the uncertainty and public disagreement over the seriousness of the novel virus.

Market staff notified all the vendors, many of whom had already loaded their trucks full of valuable products for the market the next morning. 

While they were disappointed, they generally agreed with the decision. “I think you made the right decision, and I’m not an alarmist,” Patti Heimbold, the owner of Patti’s Mpls roasted nuts, wrote us. 

But the decision came with a cost, and managers and vendors now had to decide how to plan for the outdoor farmers market season during a crisis. Amid an atmosphere of confusion, vendors from across the state sent in requests and questions. “We’ve all likely been spreading this virus like crazy and don’t even know it,” Adrienne Logsdon of Kiss My Cabbage wrote us, wondering about the best way to create a pre-order system for customers.

On March 16, bars and restaurants were shuttered. The stay-at-home order went into place on March 25. The Minnesota Farmers Market Association worked closely with the Department of Agriculture and the Governor’s Office to include farmers markets as essential services, in the same category as grocery stores. Mill City Farmers Market piloted a series of pre-order-only pick-up farmers markets to close out their winter market season. The St. Paul Farmers Market introduced safety precautions, like adding hand washing stations and extra tables in front of vendors to increase physical distance between customers and vendors.

At Neighborhood Roots, we’ve helped vendors set up online stores and convened a zero-contact farmers market in the parking lot of Bachman’s on Lyndale. On April 23, more than 200 customers showed up to support their favorite vendors using this new market model. Considering the success of these preseason markets, many organizations decided to move forward with their outdoor season plans. Fortunately, the vendors and customers are ready to build a new way to buy local food.

Markets will be open. Markets will be different. The Farmers Markets of Minneapolis collaborative, a group of market managers and other community partners, created a set of guidelines for markets, vendors and shoppers to help ensure the health and safety of our broader community. Markets are changing their layout to facilitate physical distancing, requiring vendors to wear masks, suspending entertainment, encouraging contactless payments and prohibiting on-site food consumption. Don’t worry. Many of your favorite vendors will still have prepared food to-go!

How to shop at the farmers market

  • Stay home if you or someone in your home is sick
  • Send one person per household
  • Wear a mask
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Don’t mingle, be efficient
  • Let vendors serve you, don’t touch products you have not purchased
  • Leave your dog at home
  • Don’t eat or drink at the market (takeout only)
  • Order and pre-pay online (when possible)

The Fulton Farmers Market will be open on Saturdays starting May 16 and the Kingfield market on Sundays starting May 17. To find your neighborhood market and learn more about our COVID-19 response, visit farmersmarketsofmpls.org.