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Expanded Practices for Farmers Markets

A woman shops at a market wearing a respirator and gloves.

Disruptions to the national food supply chain have caused vendors and consumers alike to predict that local may be the new normal when it comes to food. We must invest in our local farms to help them weather the current crisis and strengthen their operations for future growth and local food security. In addition to providing essential food access services, farmers markets have always been viewed as a cultural bank – a place to gather and socialize.

Given the current pandemic, farmers market managers and vendors should discuss ways to encourage customers to turn out while encouraging them to practice social distancing and sanitary practices in a market setting.

Remember, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, not a gastrointestinal disease, so the risk of contracting the disease from eating contaminated food is low. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the risk of spreading COVID-19 to others is dependent on three factors – social distance, the duration of exposure and the effectiveness of health practices and sanitation. Expanded health, hygiene and safety practices for farmers markets should address all three factors. Additionally, proactive steps in developing communications, preparing contingency plans and modifying operations will likely help keep the local food system functioning as close to normal as possible. A few best practices are suggested below.     

Farmers market operators must provide up-to-date information to customers through market signs, social media, newsletters or emails. Emphasize the specific health and safety practices the markets are taking to prevent the spread of illness, as well as the rules and changes in market procedures being implemented to help customers and vendors remain safe and healthy. Discourage vendors and customers who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or have come into contact with someone displaying symptoms from attending markets. At least for the time being, encourage only one person per household to visit the market. Limit number of customers entering market, limit customers to one per vendor at a time, and keep customers walking in one direction into and out of the market. Help customers to maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet by having clear signage and visual cues for waiting lines or traffic flow for customers.

Make sure to provide maps of vendors’ stalls in advance of market day so customers can find their favorite vendors easily and quickly. Encourage customers to come prepared with a game plan in mind so they can shop quickly and efficiently; if an option, they can pre-shop the market’s online site to see what will be available so they can prepare a shopping list beforehand. When possible, encourage contactless payments, including exact change, credit cards, tap-to-pay or online preorder for pickup or delivery. Extending sales hours to accommodate more customers without crowding is recommended. It may be considerate to designate specific hours for vulnerable populations, including elderly, pregnant or immune-compromised individuals.

Encourage customers to touch only items they will purchase. Alternatively, vendors can limit or discourage self-serve options by pre-bagging items in different sizes to accommodate different customer needs. Demos and sampling should be suspended to minimize touch points and crowding, and hot food sales should be restricted to take-out options only.

Provide prevention supplies at markets (hand-washing stations that include potable water, single-use towels, soap and catchment for gray water), and supplement with hand sanitizers (60% to 70% alcohol) at vendor stalls. Post hand-washing signs reminding vendors and customers about proper hand-washing procedures.

Space vendor booths at least 10 feet apart. If space is an issue or there are vendors and consumers who are not comfortable participating in a traditional farmers market, consider temporarily redesigning market locations to allow for pre-ordered items to be picked up at the usual market times or other alternative distribution methods, such as community or home delivery.

All vendors and market employees should be trained on new COVID-19 procedures and policies and retrained on existing health and safety standards for the market. In addition, vendors should sanitize hands and work areas after every transaction. Separate tasks if possible, so have separate market staff handle payment items, such as money, tokens and vouchers, and food items. Remind staff about proper hand-washing procedures. Make sanitary gloves required for market staff and use CDC guidelines and protocols for using and changing gloves and for wearing masks.

Vendors should use non-porous plastic tables that can be easily disinfected, if possible. Think about touch points, such as doorknobs, railings, tables, counters, credit card machines and cash registers. throughout the market and develop schedules for cleaning and sanitizing with a designated person to supervise and enforce health, hygiene and food safety practices. Disinfectants that may be effective against COVID-19 are available on the EPA Disinfectant Registration List .

These strategies can help you navigate the current crisis, but also can be used in the long term to improve health, hygiene and food safety standards at your market. WVU Extension Service has created an online map to help facilitate this process.

Remember to stay up-to-date on current COVID-19 recommendations from your state’s departments of agriculture and health. For further information, please contact Dee Singh-Knights at or 304-293-7606