The arrival of COVID-19 in the USA is one that can only be described in ominous terms: determined, dangerous, and with no end in sight. With a rate of contagion that is exponentially climbing, an invariable closure in public institutions, and a decline in markets of almost 1/3, it is safe to say that this virus is serving to be one of the most economically, emotionally, and professionally disrupting events in recent memory. But as we stock up, hunker down, and clean out our homes for what can be a fairly extensive period of “social distancing,” the question remains of what is to become of our most prized local farmers and farmers’ markets.
For a large percentage of Americans, farmers’ markets symbolize many things: sustainable agriculture, healthy eating, and of course, the local food system. Furthermore, farmers’ markets represent the interconnectivity of this system, and those who rely on it: Whether it is families, individuals, the critically infirmed, or prominent local restaurants, local farms serve as a critical linchpin in the American economic infrastructure. As many businesses are forced to close, however, this has beckoned the question amongst lawmakers as to whether or not Farmers’ Markets should be classified as “essential businesses.”
While the situation is still fast-moving, most marketplaces are still allowed to be open. According to DHS guidance on industry responses to coronavirus, “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services, pharmaceuticals, and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”
As the quote would suggest, this includes farmers and farmers' markets. The problem is that such guidance has a caveat: While this is good news for grocery store employees, farmers’ markets are approved by city and state governments, not DHS.
This means that while the federal government can appreciate the role that farmers’ markets play during this crisis, not all farmers’ markets will necessarily be open. Recently, the city government of Durham, NC—the location of our headquarters—blocked the Durham Farmers’ Market from opening up for business on March 21st over virus concerns. In Boulder, Colorado, Boulder County Farmers’ Markets were forced to close by local municipalities. Additionally, some markets have decided to shutter operations altogether, instead of wait for administrative guidance. This has been seen with Philadelphia’s Farm to City, which runs 5 operations in the city’s suburbs.
via Matt Bates
Mind you, these are all still exceptional circumstances. In North Carolina, The Raleigh and Carrboro Farmers Markets will be open. Furthermore, in Philadelphia, the city has offered clarifying language to include Farmers Markets in a list of critical industries—giving them the official blessing to stay open. According to FarmersMarketCoalition.org, most local municipalities and governments are aiming to do the same, or have already done so.
Generally, we agree with this sentiment: Farmers, Farmers’ Markets, and Grocery Stores are all truly essential things that we cannot live without. Seal the Seasons farmers such as Jeff Bender, have gone on the record saying that our food system is not equipped to produce food surpluses that can sustain us for extended periods. According to him: if everything were to stop, our available food may last only a handful of weeks.
While this is all said in agreeance with the fact that farmers, farmers’ markets and grocery stores are all essential businesses, we should also be clear with one another about what essential businesses actually are during these times. Even though most Americans could not function without access to a grocery store, a bank, or a hospital, because these services are so heavily utilized, they are also places that are likely to experience the highest amount of viral exposure—regardless of the precautions that employees may take.
This sentiment has also been echoed by medical professionals, who have said that “Every trip to the grocery store is a small exposure event.” Subsequently, as a function of frequenting these places, one’s risk of potential exposure is likely to increase as well.
As a company that sells healthy food, selling healthy food is only part of what we believe. Keeping people healthy is another part. Let’s be candid about the reality: though this virus is not airborne, everybody is wearing face masks and despite its ability to live on surfaces for several hours, very few are wearing gloves. In other words, it would be disingenuous for us to simply say those essential businesses are safe to visit simply because they have been deemed essential. The truth is that these places should be visited sparingly, and only as absolutely needed.
As supporters of local farmers, as well as farmers’ markets, we empathize with those who still want to eat healthily, obtain food from a trusted source and support local agriculture all in this present moment. Seal the Seasons offers a product that allows people to do all three, while at the same time being easy to stock for these uncertain times. No matter your location, the frozen produce that you find from us is locally sourced, frozen in peak season for freshness, and stocked at your local grocer for your convenience. While what we offer is for year-round consumption, what we offer is also for times like this.
To us, there is no debate as to whether or not farms and farmers' markets are essential businesses—they are. But as far as customer-facing operations, we are asking how essential is it for people to frequently visit them at this time? Regardless of their essential status, these places can be hotbeds of exposure—and simply because of an absence in universal precautions. Ultimately, as cases rise and times become more uncertain, the best thing we can all do to mitigate our risk is to stay home. In the meantime, do yourself a favor: hunker down, clean out what is old, and stock up on what you need, if you have not already.
Oh yes, and cue the Netflix.
For regular updates on the operating status of farmers markets during the COVID-19 pandemic, we invite you to visit FarmersMarketCoalition.org.
Click here to find out where you can find Seal the Seasons produce near you.
Finally, if for those interested in supporting farmers during this difficult time, please consider a donation to The American Farmland Trust's Farmer Relief fund, which is currently providing small farmers with $1,000 in cash to help make ends meet. You can donate as little as $25, and any amount helps. For more information, visit The American Farmland Trust.