Farmers Markets Open for the Season, Following Social Distancing


Learn how farmers markets are adjusting to met new safety needs

SALEM – In communities across Oregon, springtime wouldn’t be the same without vibrant farmers’ markets, where local vendors beckon with fragrant bouquets, colorful produce, freshly baked goods, potted plants, and handmade wares.

This year, farmers markets look a bit different with new physical distancing rules and handwashing stations. In some locations, pre-ordering and curbside pickup options are available as sellers and markets adapt to Governor Kate Brown’s executive orders on safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You have to adjust with the times and we are serious about making sure everybody is safe,” said Lisa Sherman, executive director of the Salem Saturday Market , which opened for the season on April 4 with 35 vendors instead of the typical 100 – and colorful chalk marks on the asphalt indicating how to ensure safe distancing.

Until the crisis passes, Sherman said there will be no handcrafts like jewelry, no on-site dining, nor stage with musical acts. “We really are an outdoor grocery store right now, and not an event,” she said.

The state is working closely with farmers markets to ensure that the public is protected. For instance, each market must now have a “physical distance officer” to patrol crowds.

Like grocery stores, the markets are allowed to stay open. They offer a critical conduit for fresh food to Oregon families – including vulnerable families relying on public assistance programs like SNAP, said Kelly Crane, executive director of the Oregon Farmers Markets Association. The association worked with state agencies to develop Coronavirus-related guidance for its members.   

How critical are farmers markets to Oregon’s agriculture economy? In 2019, the 106 local markets statewide collectively supported 6,700 small business and agriculture vendors, and sold $63 million in products, most of it being food, Crane said.

Don’t expect to see markets invite you to linger or to handle any products before you buy, Crane said. The goal is to get shoppers in and out quickly. 

Before you go, check the status of your local spot. A handful of markets elected to temporarily close due to coronavirus fears and guidelines.

Still, most markets are either open or reopening this spring – with a smaller menu of booths and lots of handwashing stations. Since so many Oregon farmers sell to restaurants, they’re being hard hit by the massive decline in restaurant dining. One bright spot for vendors: Since the COVID-related concerns, the crowds are much sparser – but farmers are reporting that sales are up, Crane said.

In Roseburg, Umpqua Valley Farmers Market manager Amanda Pastoria said they cut vendors and opened the layout. You even can order ahead on Facebook and have groceries delivered to your car. Farmers and shoppers told her they are appreciative that the markets are still in limited operation.

Pastoria said, “We are all really thankful for a robust local food system, and times like this show how important that is.”

The Hillsdale Farmers Market in southwest Portland is trying a different innovative approach: a pre-order and then drive-through pickup service.

One more way to support your local farmers are to sign up for CSA, (Community-Supported Agriculture) subscription boxes. Some farms deliver while others offer pickups of these boxes filled with fresh produce.

Want to find a local farmers market? Check out this map.

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James Sinks is the Financial Education Program Manager with the State Treasury

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