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Should farmers markets close during the coronavirus? Local operators are split.

Uploaded: Mar 12, 2020
Some Peninsula farmers markets have decided to close temporarily to slow the spread of the coronavirus while others are staying open to maintain a reliable, direct-from-farms food source to local communities.

The Downtown Palo Alto Farmers' Market — which usually runs year-round, rain or shine, on Saturday mornings — is closed until further notice. The Thursday afternoon Portola Valley Farmers' Market will also close starting next Thursday, March 19, through Thursday, March 26, at a minimum. The operators of both markets made the decision to close following updated guidance from public health officials urging social distancing and cancellation of large events.


Jose Gallardo of Gallardo's Organic Farm sells customers strawberries at the Portola Valley Farmers' Market in 2018. The Thursday market will close temporarily to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Photo by Veronica Weber.

The guidance is "meant to slow the spread of the virus in our community, reduce the number of people infected, and protect those who are most vulnerable to severe illness," said Nile Estep, founder of Good Roots Events and Farmers Markets, which operates the Portola Valley market. "We understand the new guidance can have tremendous impact on the lives of people in our community. However, this is a critical moment in the growing occurrence of COVID-19 when such measures can potentially slow the spread of the disease.

"The health and safety of our market vendors and the community is our first priority," he said.

Robert McDiarmid, president of the volunteer-run Downtown Palo Alto Farmers Market, said closing "was a difficult decision, as we understand the impact on our customers and our growers." He hopes to reopen the market as soon as possible.

Two Bay Area-wide market operators, however, the Urban Village Farmers Market Association and California Farmers' Markets Association, are keeping their nearly 30 locations open, including the California Avenue farmers market in Palo Alto and the Mountain View, Los Altos (which opens for the season in May) and Los Gatos markets.

"The answer is no, we're not closing," California Farmers' Market Association Executive Director Gail Hayden said on Thursday. "People have to get food."


All of California Farmers' Market Association's Bay Area locations will remain open. Photo by Michelle Le.

The downtown Menlo Park farmers market is remaining open for now, but operator Lori Hennings said will "play it by ear" after running this coming Sunday. The vendors will no longer be offering samples.

Hayden and the Urban Village Farmers Market Association stressed that farmers markets remain essential spaces for people to get fresh food that has been handled by fewer people than what's available at commercial grocery stores.

"The benefits greatly outweigh any drawbacks," Urban Village Farmers Market Association wrote in a March 11 statement.

Among the organization’s reasons for keeping markets open at this time are: closing farmers markets could overburden grocery stores, which are enclosed spaces; markets are open to air and direct sunlight, which are "inhospitable" to viruses; operating for a limited number of hours once a week makes it manageable to maintain cleanliness; and the produce is traveling a short distance from farm to customer.

"Most farmers market items are harvested and packed by only a few people within 100 miles or less," the Urban Village Farmer Market Association said. "Brick and mortar grocery stores often import internationally, tend to have a multitude of persons and places involved in product handling, packaging, wide distribution networks of travel, multiple transit points in international and regional hubs."

Both operators are taking precautions at its markets, including not allowing food samples, limiting tables and chairs to reduce crowds, offering hand sanitizer at information booths, spreading vendors out to allow for social distancing and frequently cleaning all vendor surfaces before, during and after markets. Urban Village Farmers’ Markets vendors will not be allowed to operate until a required hand-wash station is set up and they properly wash their hands. The coronavirus is not believed to be spread through food; the market operators are reminding customers to wash fruit and produce as they normally would.

They are urging both vendors and customers not to come to markets if they have a fever or any respiratory symptoms. Urban Village Farmers Market has enacted a "no-penalty clause" for vendors who have to cancel due to illness concerns.
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Comments

 +   12 people like this
Posted by resident, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 7:27 pm

Safeway is still open. Why are farmers markets any riskier?


 +   5 people like this
Posted by resident2, a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 9:25 pm

The crowds are more spread out at grocery stores because their hours are much longer and their offerings are less distinctive. As a result, the crowding at farmer's markets tend to be more intense. That means the six-foot rule for social distancing is more likely to be adhered to at Safeway that at a farmer's market.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: other,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 9:09 am

Portola Valley market is stopping for now. It's so sad that the hourly food workers are going to get so screwed in this mess.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 11:24 am

What about vegetable delivery services? (I forget the three letter acronym - CSM?) These are often dropped off on people's porches. Are these safer? If the delivery people take proper precautions, it seems like it could address the safety issue while providing a way for farmers to do business.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 11:35 am

CSA ... that's what the veggie boxes are called.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by SVJim, a resident of another community,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 12:38 pm

SVJim is a registered user.

Good idea.

CSA definitely helps reduce spread. At a farmer's market we are each exposed to everyone else near us and their spittle and sneezes(gah!). With a CSA you are only exposed to one person (0 if dropped off).

Fruit and veggies keep your immune defense strong too.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by EK, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 1:57 pm

I agree that a temporary delivery box model would be a good thing for vendors to consider, even if it's a fixed weekly assortment of fruits/veggies that the customers can't customize. Sure, we won't have as much flexibility with picking out our own produce, but at least we would still be able to get fresh fruits and veggies and support local farmers without having to go out in public.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by julianne, a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 3:05 pm

I agree with the urban farmers assoc. approach, the benefits of buying fresh, local produce from our local farmers is good for all of us. Whole foods, and other local markets can be very crowded. We can create "social distancing" at the farm markets just as well as at the produce sections of our local markets.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Chris, a resident of University South,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 1:10 pm

Campbell and Santa Clara were both shut Sunday.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Need fresh food, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 18, 2020 at 12:13 pm

Can someone set up a virtual marketplace that allows us to place orders with our favorite vendors, then walk around and pick them up, or even have scheduled times when we pick them up so that crowds are spread out at the market? Could we schedule people throughout the morning until then, and have vendors with gloves pick up produce for scheduled shoppers at each place?

Somehow, there must be a way to handle this and not shut down the farmers' markets! There definitely is a nutrition and food security aspect to keeping them open.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Solar Panel, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on May 29, 2020 at 9:09 pm

I concur with the urban ranchers assoc. approach, the advantages of purchasing new, nearby produce from our neighborhood ranchers is useful for us all. Entire nourishments, and other nearby markets can be extremely packed. We can make "social distancing" at the homestead advertises similarly just as at the produce segments of our neighborhood markets.


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