COVID19 Response and Best Practices Guide for Utah Farmers Markets
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of fresh and local food to rural and urban communities throughout Utah. Farmers markets, farm stands, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs serve as vital food access points for Utahns while also contributing to the livelihood of farmers and food producers. Governor Herbert’s Executive Order issued on March 6, 2020 states that agriculture and food are considered essential for public health and safety. The Utah Farmers Market Network, under the support and guidance of Utah State University Extension, considers farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs as essential services as long as they sell approved items and operate in compliance with local health and public safety officials. Current state and local directives can be found here.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) has issued guidelines for COVID-19 food establishment permits. These guidelines are found here.
Below are best practices for farmers market operations under COVID-19 restrictions. It is compiled from various sources including other states’ farmers market guidelines, farmers market associations, health departments, the Farmers Market Coalition, and the Centers for Disease Control. This document is designed as a starting point for managers in planning their market operations according to UDAF guidelines. Please note that additional modifications may be required by public health authorities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued interim guidance for larger public gatherings. Some key points include:
- Remain up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 recommendations from your local health department website. Sign up for newsletters or alerts by local or county-level health officials.
- Build and expand collaborative relationships with essential community partners, such as local health departments, as COVID-19 information evolves.
- Discourage people who are sick from attending your events.
- Create a contingency plan if an outbreak occurs in your community, causing a need to postpone or cancel the market.
Considerations before opening your market:
- Assuming you have permission to open your market, do you have the capacity to comply with the regulations?
- Additional help may be needed to maintain safe operations. Do you have a plan for mobilizing additional volunteers and staff should you need to?
- Given that only certain items will be allowed for sale at the market, will you have enough vendors to make your market viable?
- Consider ways you can shift or change your market to meet the needs of vendors and customers, such as market-aggregated CSAs or curbside pick-up of preorders.
- Communicate with your vendors and customers about the status of your market well before it opens, even if the status is uncertain. See more about communication with vendors and customers in the section below.
- Be prepared to respond to negative feedback from customers regarding your decisions.
- Include vendors in decision-making and brainstorming of additional ideas for revenue streams and an alternative to the market in the event that your market will be delayed or unable to open.
- Assist your customers in connecting to sources of locally grown food if you are unable to open.
Market operations best practices
Farmers markets across the country use the following best practices. As COVID-19 evolves, some of these precautions may become more or less important to implement, but you should work with local authorities to determine when to make operational changes.
- Only allow vendors who sell approved products. Stay abreast of approved items per state and local regulations.
- Incorporate the following UDAF guidelines into your market design. Market that square within a square design
- Place signage about handwashing and other procedures at each entrance. Signage from public health departments is forthcoming and will be shared in this document when available.
- Move your information booth to the front of your market. Fences or ropes with signs indicating a limited entry can help delineate a market.
- Prohibit customers from congregating, eating on the premises, and lingering.
- Follow recommended procedures for payments (See Payment Guidelines).
- Market employees should wash hands frequently and wear gloves if handling money or tokens. Follow proper handwashing and glove glove safety guidelines.
- Provide guidelines to your vendors (See Vendor Guidelines and Communication section).
- Open early to allow senior citizens and medically compromised individuals to shop.
- Suspend or alleviate penalties for vendor cancellations.
- Encourage use of touchless device systems.
Guidelines for payments at the market
- For Point-of-Sale (POS) systems - Disable signature function on POS, and let customers slide their own card.
- For Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) machines - Allow customers to slide their own card and enter their pin number. Wipe down the device between customers.
- Note that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) customers wishing to use their EBT card CAN order online, but CAN NOT pay online. Payment must take place at pickup.
- Use a Venmo, Paypal, or Google Pay service or other touchless form of payment when possible; see resource on various mobile payment apps.
- Wipe all devices down frequently according to CDC guidelines.
- Require market staff and vendors handling money or tokens to wear gloves and change them often.
- Round up totals to the nearest dollar to avoid exchanging coins with customers.
- For handling and sanitizing wooden SNAP tokens and metal Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) tokens, refer to this guide.
Vendor Guidelines and Communication
Under COVID-19 restrictions, it is recommended that you provide your vendors with guidelines. As the situation could change throughout the season, establish a form of communication with vendors on a regular basis whether through an email, newsletter, or a weekly call.
- Frequently sanitize surfaces according to CDC guidelines.
- According to UDAF guidelines, all vendors are required to wear gloves. Gloves can be used up to 4 hours if you are doing the same activity.
- Maintain 6 feet from customers at all times. Place tables in front of booths to maintain distance.
- UDAF guidelines state that produce and goods may be handled by vendors only. Consider having one of each item in view and allow customers to request items.
- Use whiteboards or chalkboards to continuously update product lists for visibility to customers.
- Do not handle reusable bags.
Customer communication best practices
In the weeks leading up to the opening of your market, and throughout your market season, ensuring accurate information on a regular basis will be essential to the success of your market during this time. Customers need to be informed that coming to the market may not be the same experience as before, but that the market is dedicated to mitigating the effects of COVID-19 by staying in compliance with regulations, and ensuring a safe place to purchase food and essentials. Consider the guidelines below when communicating about your market.
- Provide customers with up-to-date guidelines and the actions your market is taking to ensure their safety.
- Identify and display precautionary measures at the market using large-format signage.
- Prepare your customers to abide by the new rules at the market.
- Share the list of vendors participating, what items they will sell, and how they will take payments from customers (including SNAP and DUFB customers).
- Remind customers that there is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food, as per the CDC3.
Additional resources for farmer market managers
- Farmers Market Coalition website shares guidelines and other resources for markets; FMC also hosts a free national listserv; check here for national updates for markets.
- The California Alliance of Farmers Markets has created response and best practices guide
- The Michigan Farmers Market Association, guidelines and recommendations
- The Community Farm Alliance (Kentucky), guide for farmers market operations, a brochure for vendors and a guide for customers.
- The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, sample letter to advocate for your market during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Additional template for advocating for your market.
- Utah Department of Health has a designated COVID-19 page with the most up-to-date information in our state.
- Utah State University COVID-19 page has resources that might be helpful to farmers market shoppers, extension.usu.edu/covid-19
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an up-to-date FAQ COVID-19
- CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to COVID-19
- CDC Disinfecting facilities
- Find more information from USDA here: Coronavirus information
- Find more information from FDA here: COVID-19 Guidance
- Find more information from WHO here: COVID-19 advice for the public
Created by Regan Emmons, USU Extension farmers market promotion program coordinator. Edited and peer reviewed by Roslynn McCann, USU Extension sustainable communities specialist, the Utah Department of Health and eight Utah farmers market managers.
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