Some farmers markets allowed to re-open

Peacefield Farms at the Escondido Farmers Market in undated file photo/Escondido Grapevine

Now that the state of California has defined certified farmers markets as an essential service for food supplies, a number of markets that had been shut a week earlier by local governments and property owners are back up and running. Market operators continue efforts to reopen other markets.

“The state Office of Emergency Services has made it clear: People involved in agriculture, food production, distribution and transportation of food or agricultural products—anyone working in the food supply chain—people in those critical jobs are allowed and should continue to show up for work,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said.

Hannah Gbeh, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said the state affirmation that farmers markets are essential is helping to reopen farmers markets in the city of San Diego, which were forced to close after the city canceled their special events permits.

“The city of San Diego informed us that we can reopen our markets, so we are very grateful to the city and the California Department of Food and Agriculture for working with us, and to CDFA for issuing their recent guidance; that document seems to be the biggest factor in triggering this change in directive,” Gbeh said.

Check the San Diego County Farm Bureau website and individual market Facebook pages for more updates, as market permits are being reinstated on a case-by-case basis, and consider supporting Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) by buying directly from a local farm.

Casey Anderson, executive director of the Orange County Farm Bureau, which operates eight farmers markets, said in addition to the state’s recent action, the Farm Bureau worked with the Orange County Board of Supervisors to secure language in an emergency order that lists farmers markets as essential services. As a result, the majority of the markets have reopened.

“Following the county issuing the order, the cities that had closed our markets were quick to allow them to reopen, so that was very helpful,” Anderson said. “A guidance document from the county’s health department has also allowed our private landowners to feel more comfortable letting the markets reopen without fear of liability or that they’re breaking the rules.”

Reopening farmers markets came as a relief for Shaun Rosendahl, a partner in Sunny Cal Farms in Reedley. Rosendahl said about 70% of the markets he supplies had been shut down.

“When I found out that some of our bigger markets are opening, I literally broke out into tears of joy because it could have been really bad; it could have put a lot of people out of business,” Rosendahl said.

His farm supplies many varieties of citrus to customers at Southern California farmers markets.

“We’re a little bit bigger operator and we might’ve made it, but a lot of the small farms would have not made it” had markets not reopened, Rosendahl said.

As local and state governments issued stay-at-home orders in mid-March in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, some local governments and property owners temporarily revoked permission for farmers market operations. Other markets remained open after bolstering safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Closing markets, affected organizers said, hurt farmers and market customers, especially when access to fresh fruits and vegetables is needed to boost immunity levels.

The county’s guidance document includes changes that must be implemented by farmers markets to stay operating, said Anderson of the Orange County Farm Bureau, including increased distance between booths, customers and vendors; addition of hand-washing stations; and bans on food preparation and sampling.

For markets that have yet to reopen, Anderson said, the Farm Bureau continues working with those property owners to make that happen.

“Customers are grateful and appreciate the additional food source, especially the type of produce they can get at the farmers market, and the farmers and other vendors are very dependent on the markets to get their products sold,” he said.

The manager of the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, Ben Palazzolo, said about half of its 30 markets were open and once the state designated farmers markets as essential, more markets reopened that had been closed.

“We had some more farmers markets open this past weekend, which is great,” Palazzolo said. “Right now, our focus is on just trying to get the markets open safely and get farmers back in there, so they have some regular income and people have access to those fresh fruits and vegetables.”

He said the markets have enacted social-distancing protocols, he said, “so spacing out vendors throughout the market and encouraging them to bag produce so people can get it very quickly.”

The temporary closures, Palazzolo said, have encouraged market operators to look at “alternate venues” for connecting farmers and customers.

“Options could be delivery or a different setup of our markets to continue to work as a pipeline to customers,” he said. “Also, I think going forward, farmers are trying to figure out, what do they want to plant now to sell in a month or two?”

Rosendahl of Sunny Cal Farms said he also has been considering alternatives, such as trying to conduct some online marketing. In addition, he said he is working through representatives of markets that remain closed, to figure out how to deliver to their customers at home.

“Of the markets that are open, sales are much higher than an average day for us, so that has been a plus, but we don’t know how long this is going to last,” Rosendahl said. “I think a lot of people are on their last bit of money coming in, and we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at Permission for use is granted by the California Farm Bureau Federation.

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