Farmers Markets are innately social gathering places that have historically provided a direct market for local farmers to sell their fresh fruits and vegetables directly to members of their community. They also provide an opportunity for at-risk populations to access nutritious foods through programs like SNAP and Double SNAP Dollars programs.
Because of this, our state government has listed farmers markets, farm stands, and any other food businesses as essential business operations, exempt from closure orders as long as they can maintain social distancing measures. The full directive provided by Governor Steve Bullock on March 26th can be found HERE.
In response, CFAC, NCAT, and AERO, worked with the Montana Department of Agriculture to provide specific guidelines for operating farmers markets in Montana under COVID19. The final guide can be found here:
However, please check with your county health department for most up to date information and regulations pertaining to your market.
General guidelines for adapting your market to COVID-19 include:
- Communicate your new rules and procedures to customers on your website, through online newsletters and social media, and other platforms you use to communicate with the public.
- Space booths accordingly to increase social distancing among patrons in line and walking about the market.
- Encourage the use of additional tables between customers and vendors to create more space for social distancing;
- Ensure that social distancing of six feet per person for non-family members is maintained and make clear that family members [and households] can participate in activities together, stand in line together, etc.
- Limit the number of customers at any given time as necessary to reduce outdoor/indoor crowding and lines to meet social distancing guidance.
- Increase cleaning and sanitizing frequency of restroom and other high contact areas.
- Train employees and vendors on best hygiene practices including washing their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Offer additional hand washing or sanitizing stations throughout the venue.
- Eliminate events/marketing that target individuals that the DPHSS has identified as higher risk of serious illness for COVID-19. Plan for a time when at-risk populations can access the market without the general public
- Encourage activities such as pre-bagging to expedite purchasing.
- Suspend sampling activities.
- Increase frequency of cleaning of tables, payment devices, and other surfaces.
- Eliminate non-essential/non-related services, such as bands or other entertainment.
- At the end of the market, continue to utilize local food recovery systems to feed/donate extra products to populations in need.
- Continue accepting EBT payment and implement sanitation procedures for tokens and other nutrition incentive payment types.
The CDC has also come out with guidance for any event or gathering up to 250 people. This resource is especially good for thinking through staff management, what to do if someone exhibits symptoms at your event, and other general management considerations.
Other Resources for Farmers Markets
These 1-pager PDF fact sheets developed by North Carolina State University Extension are easily printed and posted in common areas:
- COVID-19 FAQ for Farmers Markets
- COVID-19 Preventative Measures – Cleaning and Disinfection
- COVID-19 Preventative Measures – Homemade Hand Sanitizer
- COVID-19 Preventative Measures – What to do if you are sick
- Shopping and Handling Groceries FAQs
- Is coronavirus a food safety issue?
- Is coronavirus a concern on fresh produce?
- An editable sign reading “If you feel sick today, please do not shop here.”
The national Farmers Market Coalition has a webpage dedicated to best practices, examples, and guidance on communicating FM changes to customers. They include sample policies other markets are adopting and also form letters markets are using to communicate with vendors and customers.
Regulatory Guidance for Farmers Markets from governments in other states/regions/municipalities:
- The Texas guidance offers explicit rules for the markets themselves, vendors selling at the market, and consumers shopping at the market. It also includes market maps of where to find handwashing stations, sanitation zones, and the market booths, as examples of physical alterations made to market layouts to adapt to social distancing measures.
- This resource provides guidance on operational practices, preventive practices, required signage, and general cleaning and sanitation requirements for markets and vendors.
- NYC has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the US, yet they have still been able to keep the city’s network of Greenmarkets operating under these guidelines.
- Los Angeles
- Los Angeles has closed indoor FMs but allows outdoor FMs to operate as long as they follow the outlined criteria in this guide.
Generally, hand washing is considered the best line of defense against transmission of viruses. Portable hand washing stations are easy to build and the cost of components is low. Here are resources for building your own hand washing stations:
- How to build a handwashing station in 10 easy steps for under $20. University of Minnesota Agricultural Health and Safety Program, 2020.
- Watch a youtube video tutorial from University of Minnesota Extension Small Farms Program.
- Finally, this guide is for building a handwashing station that includes an insulated water container for hot water.
Many portable hand washing stations still require users to touch the spigot and soap with their hands (then use the paper towels to turn the spigot off). One alternative is called a Tippy-Tap. The CDC has instructions for building a hands-free tippy tap here.
Resources for Consumers, SNAP, and Double SNAP Dollars Participants