Farmers markets can be a safer space to shop than the grocery store due to their outdoor locations, and your food will pass through fewer hands, too, since markets are part of a shortened supply chain. Farmers markets across the District, Maryland and Virginia have adjusted their setups to comply with local guidance and ensure social distancing to keep both customers and vendors safe.
Market entrances and exits are limited, for instance. Vendors wear masks and gloves and sanitize surfaces frequently. Basic pandemic protocols apply to customers, too: Wear a mask; use provided hand-sanitizer or hand-washing stations; stay at least six feet away from others; and don’t touch produce or other products until you’ve purchased them.
But there are things you can do beyond the bare minimum. Here are a few tips to ensure a successful trip to the farmers market during the coronavirus, wherever your market may be.
Check your market’s website and/or social media to find the most updated information. Your market likely has a dedicated entrance and exit point; it might even be in a new location to provide more space for social distancing. The hours may be different from last season, or the market may be preorder and pickup only. Each market is a little different; inform yourself of the rules and procedures before you go. Also know that the situation isn’t static, especially as jurisdictions reopen; it’s wise to skim your market’s website each week in case there are updates.
Take note of whether your market accepts cash during this time. If they don’t, be cognizant of vendors’ credit card minimums. Many merchants use Square readers; last September, Square changed its fee structure, making smaller charges more costly for vendors. Purchase more, if necessary, to reach a vendor’s minimum (if you don’t need more produce, offer it to a neighbor or freeze it for later). Markets may also be processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) benefits — and matching programs that increase their spending value — differently; if information isn’t posted on their websites, check with a market manager.
Preorder when you can. It helps limit touching of cash, card readers, etc., and it helps you move quickly through the market. Many farmers and producers have implemented preorder systems, whether through an app, online marketplace or old-school phone call/email and invoice. If you miss an order deadline — or if a farm doesn’t offer preorders — look through the vendor’s list of what’s coming that week so you can make a shopping plan. Know that many markets implement one-way traffic to help enforce social distancing: Be extra organized and arrange your shopping list in the order that you’ll encounter stands as you move through the market.
Try to send only one member from the household to shop. Fewer people in the market makes it easier to remain six feet away. Plus, if you ditch your partner to go in solo, you make room for someone from another household to go in, too. Many markets request that children be left at home if possible, and bringing pets is also discouraged or not allowed; service animals are, of course, the exception.
When ordering prepared food, take it to go. If a market vendor sells prepared food — such as Arepas and Empanadas District at the Derwood Market or Call Your Mother Deli at Dupont Circle — don’t eat it on-site. Your mask would make this difficult, and you’re not allowed to anyway.
Shop quickly. Many vendors used to rely on beautiful displays to entice customers, but now much of that is blocked off. If you don’t see something you’re expecting, just ask, but be mindful of time and the other shoppers waiting in line behind you. Likewise, if you run into friends at the market — or even if you know the people selling you the produce — this isn’t the time to socialize and talk about how much you miss baseball. Make your purchase, be kind, but do it quickly so that others waiting to enter the market may do so.
Where to go
Many markets around the region are open, though restrictions vary. Here are two market organizations from each jurisdiction (the District, Maryland and Virginia), illustrating some of the changes you’re likely to encounter as you pick up your greens and nectarines in the coming months.
On normal Sundays during peak season, Washington’s largest farmers market is packed with visitors grazing the stands of more than 50 vendors. Organized by FreshFarm (the third largest farmers market network in the country), Dupont Circle is considered the cream of the crop among growers, producers and customers, although it is under scrutiny for its lack of vendors from black-owned farms and businesses. Now, the market helps control the flow of people and cut down on wait time by directing customers to reserve a shopping time (available in 15-minute increments) through OpenTable. Hand-washing stations, frequent surface sanitizing, and preorder and grab-and-go options were put in place before the D.C. government required such measures.
“We had the advantage of being a year-round market and having time to prepare while it was still the quiet winter season,” said Molly Scalise, director of communications and outreach for FreshFarm.
Most vendors offer preorder, and the market also uses Local Line, an online platform that allows customers to order from multiple vendors at once (farmers choose to opt into the system). “We’ve been at it for several weeks now, and people are getting the hang of it and getting used to all the protocol,” Scalise said. “Now it’s just a matter of remaining diligent as things warm up.”
Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 1614 20th St. NW. freshfarm.org.
Arcadia Mobile Markets
The nonprofit organization Arcadia operates 10 markets around the District, specifically in communities that otherwise lack access to healthful, affordable food. Several sites began operating in March, two months earlier than usual, to provide food for customers severely impacted by the pandemic.
“The pandemic markets were very busy, and the average SNAP sale increased from $12 to about $23, demonstrating the demand for healthy fresh food, especially during the pandemic,” executive director Pamela Hess wrote in an email. Arcadia doubles the value of SNAP sales, Hess noted, meaning a customer spending $23 would take home $46 worth of food.
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All 10 markets resumed earlier this month at the same sites served last year, but less frequently and with modifications for the coronavirus. Six markets operate as full sites on an alternating basis (three one week, three the next). Due to space limitations, the four remaining markets function on a rotating schedule as preorder and pickup only. This year customers can also place bulk orders. Erin Close, the mobile market director, sends a newsletter detailing the schedule and bulk preorder options; sign up at tinyurl.com/mmnewslettersignup. The schedule will be updated monthly: “We expect conditions to continue to change throughout the season so we are maintaining maximum flexibility,” Hess wrote.
Full markets: Mayfair and Bellevue Library on Wednesdays (3 to 6 p.m.), Edgewood and Oxon Run Park on Fridays (3 to 6 p.m.), and Anacostia and Deanwood Recreation Center on Saturdays (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
Preorder only: Hendley Elementary School, the Park at LeDroit, Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center and Chinatown Wah Luck House on Thursdays (3 to 5 p.m.). arcadiafood.org.
After a brief return to its normal Laurel Avenue location, the Takoma Park market has moved back to a nearby parking lot to ensure space for vendors and customers. “We’ve got really loyal shoppers, and there’s been a lot of information out there about the safety of open air and shopping outside,” said Laura Barclay, executive director of the Old Takoma Business Association. “So not only do we see our usual faces, we also see new people more comfortable in this setting.”
The market, which spent 10 weeks earlier this spring in the parking lot behind the shops on Laurel Avenue, is busiest between 9 a.m. and noon, according to Barclay. The majority of vendors set up a preorder system, each of which is linked on the farmers market website. Checking each website is important, as vendors have differing order deadlines. Occasionally certain products — like strawberries — are too variable to add to an online ordering system.
Sundays from 9 to 10 a.m. for senior and immunocompromised shoppers only; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. open to all. Entrance next to SunTrust Bank, 6931 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park. takomaparkmarket.com.
This Montgomery County farmers market uses a centralized online- and app-based ordering system called WhatsGood for customers to preorder from all available vendors at once. The app alerts each vendor of the sales, and on the morning of the market, all of the preorders are organized in a shaded area (and if needed, in an insulated cooler) to await pickup. Customers arrive at their preselected time slot, following signs to the quiet side street next to the market. “When customers pull up to receive their order, they just pop the trunk, we lift it, we put everything in,” market organizer Gigi Goin said. “So far it’s working pretty smoothly.” Delivery is also available to nearby Zip codes.
For those who don’t preorder, up to 30 customers at a time may shop inside the market, located in the parking lot of Neighborhood Church in Rockville. One person per household is the general rule, but many are used to coming out in family groups or with strollers, Goin said. “It’s really tough to turn them away but as the season grows and we become more crowded, we’ll just point to our signs gently and ask them to remember next week.”
Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 16501 Redland Rd., Rockville. milkladymarkets.org.
Although many Virginia markets are preorder and pickup only, the Columbia Pike farmers market allows a limited number of customers to enter to shop. The market also moved to a parking lot across Columbia Pike for more space. Preorders are encouraged, though, and keep people moving quickly despite a two-hour trim from normal market hours. Amanda Lovins, the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) communications and fundraising coordinator, onboarded the vendors to be able to sell through the market’s website.
“The majority of our farmers do not have an online presence,” said CPRO’s deputy director Amy McWilliams, and farmers will be putting in long days out in the field until at least September. “The last thing they want to think about doing is putting something up on the Internet. We tried to make it as painless as we could.”
Sundays from 9 to 11 a.m. Fillmore Shopping Center parking lot near Columbia Pike and South Walter Reed Drive. (between Atilla’s Restaurant and Acme Pie), Arlington. columbiapikefarmersmarket.org.
Located by Pen Druid Brewing in Sperryville, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Rappahannock County farmers market is preorder and pickup via drive-through only. If you’re coming from the District, the scenic drive and market location may spark a desire to forsake city living altogether.
Orders must be placed with individual vendors by 7 a.m. the Thursday before market pickup; last names beginning in A through N should try to arrive between 10 and 11 a.m., and O through Z between 11 a.m. and noon. Staff greet each vehicle as they arrive, attach a name tag to the window, and customers slowly drive around the vendors — trunk open — to stop for vendors to deposit their purchases. It takes all of five minutes.
“We’ll have this set up for a while, partly because everyone has taken the time to adjust, but mostly because we want to be prepared for any situation,” said Stacey Carlberg, the market co-founder and manager. “This is a small community market and there are a lot of small businesses involved. If one of us gets really sick, that’s our business. It’s definitely on my mind.”
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