Farm market leaders say they will need to emphasize education and coordinate on best practices to protect their vendors and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Market managers and farm stand owners joined Brian Moyer, of Penn State Extension and PA Farm Markets, on a videoconference Tuesday to discuss how to adapt to the crisis.
In Pennsylvania and other states, markets and stands that sell food have been classified as essential businesses and are permitted to stay open while most other retailers have shut down statewide.
Many farm markets and stands will open soon for what is usually a busy late spring and summer season. Some have already opened.
Dealing with these extraordinary circumstances while preparing to open will be challenging.
“Communication is going to be a huge part of this,” said Lyn Garling of Over the Moon Farm in Rebersburg. “And it’s not so much just educating the customers. Frankly, it’s getting the vendors educated.”
Moyer is pushing sellers to adopt a “grab-and-go” method with preordering, but he said that’s a secondary concern.
“To me, I think the first thing is, what are we doing to follow the guidelines and to be safe, and then we can worry about our delivery systems as we go along,” he said.
Because farmers markets can attract lots of customers, some managers are concerned about how to enforce social distancing rules.
Moyer recommends creating physical barriers to keep customers organized, and painting circles on the ground that are 6 feet apart so customers in line can better manage their spacing.
Cari Frei, executive director of Ligonier Country Market, said her business runs for four hours and draws about 5,000 people. It’s due to open for the season May 16.
Frei is considering extending the hours in order to spread out the number of visitors.
Garling suggested that markets and stands throughout the state try to operate similarly.
“The important thing is some sort of unity,” she said. “If one market does one thing and another one doesn’t, first of all that doesn’t keep everybody safe, second of all it looks bad to the customers.”
She also said market leaders need to work in partnership with health officials.
Farmers should work together to figure out what methods work best, both for safety and for distribution, Moyer said.
“It’s going to take all our creativities to figure this thing out,” Garling added.