In the midst of quarantines and social distancing, farmers across the state are literally ploughing ahead, working with what they’ve got to steward their croplands and sow abundance just like they do every year. Farmers markets statewide are following suit. The market-going experience, like all social experiences, will be different because of the pandemic this year, but Utahans will have access to all the same local, farm-fresh produce as ever.
Farmer’s market managers from St. George to Logan are taking the restrictive pandemic-friendly food establishment permit requirements in stride. Markets may not be as fun, but they will be open and the market community is working to make sure the experience remains rewarding for farmers and foodies.
“It’s going to be a little bit scaled down for the time being and a little more work for us, but we’re excited to be able to actually do it,” said Sarah Taylor, who manages the Provo Farmer’s Market with her husband, Matt.
According to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, farmers markets are essential not only as a source of fresh produce, but also because Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users can double the dollar value of their benefits when they buy fresh produce at farmers markets.
Fresh guidelines from UDAF to farmers market managers issued at the end of May detail what shoppers can expect to experience in Utah:
- Masks are encouraged
- There will be one entry and exit point
- Attendees may have to wait to enter, to ensure the number of people in the market can maintain 6’ distance from each other
- Every vendor will have handwashing or hand sanitizer available
- Food will be prepackaged and can only be handled by gloved vendors before purchase
- Cash is discouraged
- Farmers are being encouraged to pre-sell online, so keep an eye on your favorite farmers’ web sites and social media
For now, live music and activities that typically encourage gathering are not allowed. Arts and crafts vendors may be scarce this year, as well as pre-prepared food vendors. The guidelines specifically approve of personal care products vendors, but other arts and crafts may not be allowed, and food trucks will only be allowed with local health department approval. Vendors are required to be 10’ apart, and produce vendors have the priority for limited space.
Opportunities for community gathering are going to be sorely missed, Liberty Park Farmers Market chair, Valerie Vaughan, said. “People come out for that. They enjoy the music and the food.”
Utah market managers have been working closely with state and city officials, and many come together weekly on a phone call facilitated by the Utah State University Farmers Market Promotion Program to encourage each other and share experiences and best practices. In a Zoom meeting in late May, they discussed ways to procure hand sanitizer from state distilleries and the pain of losing their arts and crafts vendors.
Mary Laine manages the Cache County Gardener’s Market, which opened May 9, and noted that while this year it is less of a community gathering space, it has still drawn more than 1,000 people a week looking for fresh food from farmers they know and support.
“I think it’s important to remember that it’s not going to be like this forever,” Lane said. “We will come out of this, we will, but it’s going to feel like a long slog in the meantime.”
Matt Taylor noted that they changed the Provo Farmers Market marketing tag line this year to “Growing Community.”
“Really that’s what it’s about, bringing together people, giving people opportunities to succeed on their own through building their own business, and allowing the public to come together to support those businesses and enjoy a weekly tradition for the summer,” he said.