How Farmers’ Markets are Contending with COVID-19

by Stephanie Armstrong and the SFUSA Food & Farm Policy Working Group

Some farmers markets will continue to show up while others shut down for the time being. Regions choosing to keep markets open say they provide essential services on par with grocery stores. This is especially true considering markets deliver food to folks using SNAP and WIC benefits when brick-and-mortar stores experience periodic shortages. Several of the nation’s largest markets will remain open including those in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles County, Santa Fe and Pike Place Market in Seattle. Meanwhile, other markets have been put on hold following federal guidance to prohibit large gatherings and promote social distancing. Notable temporary cancellations include the Green City indoor market in Chicago, Crescent City market in New Orleans, Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets, and the farmers markets in Ann Arbor and Nashville.

Markets are likely to modify services as municipalities roll out regulations to keep producers and the public safe. Common adjustments to open markets are to discontinue food samples, prohibit the sale of prepared food, cancel educational tours, and stop compost collection. Additionally, shoppers are asked to follow safety precautions from the CDC such as sanitizing hands and standing six feet apart. Suspended markets are also finding ways to keep the connection between farmers and buyers. Chicago, for example, established a virtual market where shoppers can order delivery from farmers. Market coalitions post scheduling, safety, and service updates through their websites and social media.

Supporting local farms remains crucial during this turbulent time. Economic experts from The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) estimate a 10-25% loss of annual sales – approximately $240-600 million – due to suspended markets and lower turnout. These early-season closures may cause small markets to stay shuttered for the remaining season. Other revenue streams for farmers are also drying up as schools and restaurants close. Local markets should continue to be a reliable source of income for small farms.

Our farmers markets must be included as Congress considers a package of financial assistance for small businesses. NSAC and the Farmers Market Coalition have called on Congress to include “small food and farm businesses” (SFFB) adversely affected by COVID-19 in support programs such as emergency payment and loan programs; incentivize SFFB to use online platforms as regulations continue to limit in-person interactions; enable USDA programs and state agencies to procure local foodstuffs in bulk; award innovators who create solutions to “future supply disruptions” through the Local Agriculture Marketing Program and Value-Added Producer Grants Program; and increase access to various government programs by easing requirements. If adopted into the stimulus plan, these recommendations will support small- and medium-sized farms and new farmers.

Join the communities, organizations and farmers working together to link food suppliers to the public. Check your local markets for scheduling and service changes, and follow the recommended safety precautions to protect yourself and others. Are markets closing in your area? View market websites, contact the organizers, or reach out to farmers to learn how they are adapting and how you can continue supporting farm-to-fork.

Contact your Senators and Representative urging them to affirm farmers markets as an essential service that should remain open for food access during this difficult time. You can personalize the message below and submit on the Contact pages of your federal legislators’ websites. Now, more than ever, is the time to show farmers that our support is sustainable.

Message to Your Senators and Representative.

Dear (Legislator’s name)

As a supporter of Slow Food USA, the national, not-for profit organization dedicated to a food chain that is good, clean, and fair for all and of local food and farm economies, I urge you to support federal assistance for farmers markets and the small and mid-scale, family farmers that participate in them, delivering fresh and minimally processed, nutritious food to rural and urban communities. 

Using the best available data from the USDA and other resources, economic experts working with The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition estimate a 10-25% loss of annual sales – approximately $240-600 million – due to closing farmers markets and lower turnout. What’s more, these early-season closures may cause small markets to stay shuttered for the remaining season. Other revenue streams for farmers are also drying up due to new health and safety recommendations. Local farmers markets have been – and must continue to be – a reliable community source of fresh and nutritious food and income for regional family farms. Moreover, now, farmers markets continue providing food to customers using SNAP and WIC benefits, while brick-and-mortar stores are experiencing periodic shortages. Additional recommendations and an assessment of the economic impacts of COVID-19 on local and regional farms and ranches can be found at https://localfoodeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/2020_03_18-EconomicImpactLocalFood.pdf.

Thank you.

Sincerely

(Your Name)