As we enter into the summer season, many of us are looking forward to spending more time outside with our family and friends. Similarly, it is this time of year that farmers markets begin to operate every Saturday for the coming months. However, given the global pandemic that has obstructed our lifestyles, will they be able to open and carry out business like normal? As businesses are transitioning into a new age of living, they have no choice but to implement health protocols to protect the livelihoods of their employees as well as their customers. Farmers markets are no exception to this. If you are planning to shop from your local farmers market this summer, be aware of the new protocols that have come into place.
Farmers markets have been a longstanding annual summer tradition throughout the Fox Cities. Despite the growing concerns of COVID-19, the Fox Cities’ farmers markets are here to stay. That being said, the organizations operating them are stressing the importance of social distancing through added protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wisconsin farmers markets are exempt from being shut down; similar to grocery stores, farmers markets are essential businesses, despite encouraging large gatherings. Michelle Schmid-Schultz, the Oshkosh Saturday Farmers Market Manager, explains the importance of farmers markets during these times by stating that “they may prove to be even more important if larger supply chains are disrupted leading to shortages of agricultural products we produce locally.”
The Oshkosh Farmers Market has instituted protocols to prevent and minimize gatherings. By working with Oshkosh city officials as well as the Winnebago County Health Department to continue running the market while preventing the spread of COVID-19, temporary social distancing practices have been established to maintain a safe environment for customers, staff, volunteers and vendors. Aside from shopping, all other activities, such as musicians performing, will be prohibited. The only vendors present will be those selling agricultural products and food, as these are deemed as essential products. There will be vendors selling face masks and other personal hygiene products. Additionally, hand washing stations will be available.
The overall setup will look different than most years as well. All vendors will be separated from each other at a minimum of 10 feet. While waiting in line, customers will need to remain six feet apart from the vendor and each other. If this can’t be followed, the market will be shut down to protect everyone’s safety.
Sadly, many aspects of a traditional farmers market will no longer be allowed. Product sampling, for instance, is prohibited. To discourage gatherings, there will be no public seating areas. Similarly, customers are asked to consume their food and drinks outside of the market.
Another method that the City of Oshkosh has implemented to prevent gatherings is allowing customers to order their products ahead of time. At this time, there are eight vendors that are allowing customers to order products through either Facebook or their website. Preordering limits the amount of time customers are gathered at the market.
The Downtown Appleton Farm Market has responded similarly with regards to customer and vendor safety. While the Oshkosh Farmers Market started on June 6, Appleton’s will not start until July 4 so vendors have additional time to implement safety measures. Appleton’s vendors will also be appropriately spaced from one another. Vendors are encouraged to obey an extensive list of guidelines, including disinfecting surfaces before and during market hours. In Appleton’s market, vendors will use barrier tables, which provide an extra three feet between the customer and the product. Only vendors will be allowed to handle products.
Although these extensive lists of rules may seem overwhelming, both markets have done the most they can to provide a safe environment by working with their local health departments. Despite living in a period of fear and uncertainty when it comes to public health, the general community sentiment with regards to shopping and supporting local businesses is still positive. If all goes as planned, consumers will not be discouraged by the necessary protocols but will instead obey them and continue to shop locally.
For a list of local farmers market dates and times, click here.