Oregon Farmers' Markets are Open and Adapting as Pandemic Progresses

"Milwaukie had its second market of the season on Sunday," wrote Milwaukie Farmers' Market market manager Brendan Eiswerth about the normally packed Mother's Day market. "I was having nightmares about there being too many customers, the opposite of the nightmares I had for the past 21 years about no one showing up."

That was the signal worry on most farmers' market managers' minds in this era of COVID-19: how to keep shoppers and vendors safe while supporting small family farmers and producers.

Markets have made changes to keep shoppers and vendors safe.

Most markets in Oregon have made adaptations to follow statewide guidelines from Governor Kate Brown's Executive Order that designated farmers' markets as essential services. The Oregon Farmers' Market Association developed its own resource list to guide farmers' markets in adjusting their operations to minimize risk to the public of transmission of COVID-19.

A previous post outlined how local markets were innovating to provide food and support local farms during the pandemic, including experimenting with setting up systems for pre-ordering from vendors online and then picking up on market day. Others tried switching to a drive-through model where shoppers could pull up to a vendor's stall, choose items and then have the vendor place them in the shopper's car.

Some markets tried a drive-through model early in the pandemic.

Ginger Rapport, manager of the Beaverton Farmers Market, said that the drive-through model, implemented during the smaller winter market, got them through the early months of the pandemic, though she knew it wasn't sustainable in the busier spring and summer months.

"At the beginning of the pandemic when people were not sure how to deal with the whole situation, the drive thru provided some customers a measure of comfort that allowed them to continue shopping with us," she said.

Markets were also observing distancing requirements, placing booths from six to 10 feet apart, with one person at each stall assigned to reinforce social distancing. Other measures included encouraging shoppers to come alone, if possible, and to make a shopping list in advance of their trip in order to limit the time spent at the market. Most had already canceled classes, activities and music performances, and were asking people to refrain from extended interactions with other shoppers to shorten the time spent at the market.

Hillsdale's proposed plan for returning to a pedestrian market.

Hillsdale Farmers' Market initially piloted online pre-ordering with drive-through pick-up where shoppers simply had to pull up to the vendor's booth and their purchases could be loaded into the car. Initially there was some resistance. "I definitely received complaints from vendors and customers," said manager Eamon Molloy. "But it worked pretty well. We had well over 300 households move through the market between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on May 3rd."

But by mid-May a construction project next to the market site and the increasing number of shoppers necessitated pivoting to another model. Molloy tried curbside pick-up, but site constraints made it too hard to implement. "It is unfortunate, too, because we still had over 150 households who wanted to just pick up and keep safe distance by being in their cars," he said.

Molloy is now sketching out plans for a restricted-access pedestrian market (above left), only allowing 65 shoppers at a time into the market site with a suggested time limit per trip of 20 minutes. For the safety of shoppers and vendors, masks will be required for everyone onsite, with handwashing at designated stations strongly suggested before entering and after leaving the market.

Many vendors have hand sanitizer available for shoppers to use.

The Hollywood Farmers Market, a neighborhood institution since 1997, operates year-round and has had an open, accessible site with six main points of entry, an unmanageable situation when it comes to limiting access.

"Our market-day crowds had generally been well below capacity," wrote market coordinator Ari Rosner. "But we knew that the nice weather, strawberry availability and the Mother's Day holiday would mean bigger crowds."

Liberal use of caution tape stretched around the perimeter reduced those six entrances to just two, which were staffed with volunteers tasked with monitoring the number of shoppers in the market at any one time and keeping those waiting properly distanced. "At the peak of the market, we had probably 60 shoppers waiting in line between the two entrances," said Rosner. "But talking to shoppers at the front of the line, it seemed like no one had to wait more than about 10 minutes to get into the market."

Safety is the priority at farmers' markets during the pandemic.

Asked how the pandemic has affected her market, which was established in 1988 as a gathering place for the community, Rapport said that COVID-19 has upended the way that she runs the market. "I have managed this market for 25 years and in each and every year before this, my focus was on maximizing the real estate available to me," she said. "Social distancing has redefined how we operate. It [has been] stressful to reinvent the wheel every week but, like everyone else, we are in survival mode.

Having to give up the social component of the market experience breaks her heart, Rapport said, but providing vendors and customers with a safe shopping experience while keeping the market going for its small businesses and farms has to be the priority now.

Like most of the market managers I spoke with, Rapport said she tries to keep her eyes on the prize as she navigates the obstacles presented by the pandemic. In her words: "To give our customers the opportunity to shop for farm fresh products and artisan foods with the promise that we will be here for them when they are once again able to join their family and friends for a long, leisurely day enjoying the market and one another’s company."

The Beaverton Farmers Market is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.

Serving in a Pandemic: Local Chef Delivers for Essential Workers

When I asked chef Berkeley Braden how he got involved making and delivering free meals to nurses, truck drivers and his fellow food service workers in the pandemic—most of it on his own dime—he said his motivation was two-fold. "My first motive was selfish, " he said. "I need to be busy so I don't go stir-crazy. I can't just sit around…I have to have stuff to do."

Berkeley Braden with free meals
for truck drivers.

The second reason?

"Restaurants are fucked," he said bluntly. "Lots won't reopen, and if they do they'll have to do so in a radically different format, which screws with your margins." Braden believes that will leave a majority of industry workers—think everyone from chefs to sous chefs to prep people, wait staff, bussers, dishwashers and more—out of a job, most with no savings and short on money for food for themselves and their families.

That's when he decided to step in.

As a personal chef and caterer, Braden said, he'd done really well the last few years, so when his business slowed down due to the pandemic, he started cooking for out-of-work friends and acquaintances in the service industry who didn't have enough money to buy food.

"I enjoy helping people," he said. Plus, "as a chef, I know how to produce lots of good food for very little money."

Minestrone soup for out-of-work service industry people.

The industry lunches tend to be simple—soups, stews and sauces that he cooks in large quantities once a week. Nutritious, filling and packed with flavor, Braden ticks off a list that includes minestrone soup, coconut tomato curry, pasta puttanesca and a vegan posole. Regulars come by his kitchen to pick up packaged meals to take home. He also delivers to neighbors like the wait staff in a coffee shop near his commercial kitchen, which enables him to keep in touch with how they're doing. Another industry friend will take several meals to deliver to people he knows who are having a hard time getting by.

Braden then partnered with a client to organize a fundraiser to take lunches to long-haul truckers. His takeaway was that they're a very underserved group "who continue to get us the things we need."

Braden and coworker Izzy Davids delivering to truckers.

Following the fundraising event, Braden, his coworker Izzy Davids and friend Beth Everett teamed up to take meals out to a couple of area truck stops, looking for people sitting in their trucks. A few were confused as to why someone would do that for them, he said, since they're used to being overlooked or taken for granted.

"One guy even told us to fuck off," Braden said. But a little while later as they were packing up to leave, the trucker came back and apologized, saying that he wasn't used to having people give him something without expecting anything in return.

Kara Morris, a supervisor with Kaiser Home Health, said that Braden jumped at the chance to make lunches when Morris mentioned to Braden's wife, Tracy, that she was looking for resources for meals for her medical staff.

Meals for frontline medical workers.

"He said he wanted to donate meals, and only asked 'when and how many?'" Morris said. "It was great—he's been so organized, thoughtful and meticulous." She said it's wonderful that her staff can swing by between rounds and pick up a meal in the middle of a stressful day.

"Home health care staff are often forgotten" in the stories about frontline medical workers in the pandemic, she said. "They're taking care of COVID positive patients, going into their homes." Morris added that the meals are so hearty that there's often enough left over for workers to take home to their own families.

Braden has been posting photographs on his Instagram feed of the meals he delivers and the masked—but obviously smiling—faces of medical staff holding their meals. He said a few people have contacted him "out of the blue" and offered to send money to "put toward something good," including one man from Alabama and another whose wife brought home leftovers from the meal he'd delivered to Kaiser that day.

While Braden said he's taking it a week at a time, he doesn't see stopping anytime soon. "I'm just happy to help people," he said. "I want to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. It all manifests itself and gets itself out there in so many ways."

Morris agrees. "[Braden] really cares about food, the process, and the people," she said.

Local Food is Gaining Traction in an Uncertain Time

Last night about 9 pm my phone alerted me that I'd received a text. I went over and checked it. It read:

"It's Jared with your meat delivery. It's been a loooong day but finally toward you with two quick stops. Prob by 9:30. That pushing too late?"

A variety of meats are available from local farms and ranches.

My boxed order of a chuck roast and five pounds of pork sausage from Nehalem River Ranch arrived on my porch about 20 minutes later. Rancher Jared Gardner, sitting in the cab of his truck and tapping the address of his next stop into his phone, said he'd left his home in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range at 6:20 that morning and had been on the road ever since. He had four more stops to make before he headed back.

In the shadow of a global pandemic, local farmers and ranchers, while they've lost a major revenue stream due to the shuttering of the restaurants that had made Portland a must-stop on the short list of national food scenes, seem to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts among locals looking to source food that hasn't been shipped long distances and handled hundreds of times before it hits store shelves.

Farms offering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions are reporting record sales far exceeding previous years, many even selling out ahead of the start of the season. Many of the farms that depended on restaurants have pivoted to offering CSA subscriptions, or setting up online ordering systems with delivery at drop-off points around the city, or even making deliveries to customers' homes.

Hillsdale Farmers' Market has adopted a drive-through model.

Farmers' markets themselves are adapting to the new rules and regulations surrounding the coronavirus, some going so far as to switch to online ordering and drive-through pick up, with others spreading out vendors and policing social distancing, all in the interest of supporting local farms while keeping shoppers and vendors safe. The Oregon farmers' market association has worked with state regulators on a set of guidelines and policies intended to keep markets operating as essential services, similar to grocery stores and gas stations.

Older folks, who find shopping in their neighborhood stores untenably stressful, are among those flocking to home delivery or curbside pick-up. With many supermarkets pushing out delivery of orders for a week or longer, and socially distanced lines of shoppers waiting to get into stores stretching around the block, online shopping is becoming an increasingly sought-after solution.

Businesses like Milk Run, a marketplace and distribution system for products from  local farms and producers, and greengrocers like Rubinette Produce and Cherry Sprout, have seen a huge increase in customers looking for high quality local food. Perhaps for the first time, people are perceiving it as an attractive attribute that farm-direct produce and meats haven't gone through the massive system of transportation, packaging, warehousing, distribution, store warehousing and in-store stocking, at each stop needing to be handled by workers.

West Coast albacore is MSC certified as sustainable.

Local fishing families are getting on board, too—no pun intended—offering a variation on the traditional CSA that is being called a CSF (for fishery). One, Tre-Fin Day Boat Seafood, offers a years' subscription of two sizes of boxes of their sustainably sourced fish (there's also a one-box "trial" offering). "This is the food we wanted to feed our families, and it just wasn't available," said co-owner Barrett Ames about why he and Mike Domeyer started the company.

Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Eastern Oregon has recently begun offering home delivery in Portland of six different boxes of pasture-raised meats designed to fit the needs of a wide variety of customers, from traditional chuck roasts and steaks to other boxes offer chicken, pork or their own custom-cut "lady steaks," which are small steaks from premium cuts like the tenderloin, ribeye and New York strip. (Read my profile of Cory for Civil Eats.)

Like Jared of Nehalem River Ranch, Cory is working within this "new normal" that we're all learning to navigate while still maintaining her commitment to a food system that works for her business, her community, the environment and the soil. Rather than worrying about what's coming next in this uncertain time, she wrote, "It seems better to imagine the world we want to emerge from this chaos, and to lean into it. Strangely enough, for me, that world isn't dissimilar to the one I’ve always imagined with vibrant community and nutritious food at its center."

Get a shopping guide to certified pasture-raised meat producers in Oregon.

Top photo: CSA share from Diggin' Roots Farm. Photo of meats from Carman Ranch. Photo of drive-through market from Hillsdale Farmers' Market.

Action Items: Help Local Farmers and Farmworkers…Without Leaving the Couch

I don't know about you, but this quarantine/sheltering in place/social distancing thing is getting old. I'm not at the tear-my-hair-out, run-out-the-front-door-naked stage—for this my neighbors are eternally grateful—but I'm starting to feel like there are things that need attending to besides my Facebook timeline.

Plus if I don't get busy soon, I'll have to address that list of household projects that I always said I'd get around to "when I had the time." Ahem. Below are three issues that need you to take action right now, all without leaving the comfort of your bunker.

Support Local Farms

As it stands now, farms are not eligible to receive assistance under the Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Impact Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, including emergency grants, authorized in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) passed by Congress.

Please send an email today to your Representative in Congress urging them to sign on to a letter to make sure farms are included. Below is a sample email you can copy and paste into an e-mail. List of Representatives here.

Dear Rep. [insert name],

I am writing to urge you to sign on—if you haven't already—to the letter to support making SBA's emergency economic injury grant program available to farms. It is imperative that farmers be able to access SBA disaster assistance as these programs can help fill the void that many farm businesses are currently feeling due to COVID-19.

Sincerely,

[your name and address]


Support Farmworkers

Daily  living and working was already dangerous and precarious for hundreds of  thousands of farmworkers and immigrants before the onset of COVID-19.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has terrorized farmworker communities and powerful growers have suppressed workers' efforts to organize. This pandemic has found a perfect environment to  increase immigrant communities' risk of fatality if they contract the virus. The agricultural industry has long refused to implement health and safety protections for farmworkers or worker housing, while state and federal agencies looked the other way. Today, agribusiness is  functionally exempt from COVID-19 protocols nationwide.

Take Action: Contact your governor and demand immediate protection for farmworkers. Tell them to:

  • Enact Emergency Orders with funding for staffing to ensure all COVID-19  protocols, including appropriate social distancing guidelines, are being  followed in the fields and packing/processing, with enforcement and  consequences for noncompliance, such as fines. Provide personal  protective clothing and equipment to farmworkers at no cost to them. Pay  farmworkers sick leave if they become ill. Establish an incentive for recruitment of needed farmworkers, including raising wages  to work in agriculture.
  • Ensure  there will be no retaliation against workers asking for better  protections, or for becoming ill. Ensure the COVID-19 protocols are not  used as retaliation in hiring practices.
  • Require transparent recruitment and hiring information and housing protections for all farmworkers related to COVID-19. In addition to informing workers about the terms and conditions of employment when workers are being hired, all persons who are recruiting for agricultural employment must provide detailed information about the risks of COVID-19, including how employers will protect their  safety while transporting and housing them, and in the workplace.
  • All  farmworker housing, tools, and equipment must be fully sanitized before  farmworker families move in and use the equipment. There must be proof of that sanitation. There must be designated sanitized quarantine living  facilities with access to medical personnel, and COVID-19 plans approved by the state Department of Health and local health jurisdictions.

E-mail Gov. Brown of Oregon. E-mail Gov. Inslee of Washington.

Take Action: Email state agencies and demand a stop to processing and approving H2A visa applications immediately for farms in the state.

The  H2-A guestworker visa program has a long history of exploitation and abuse. By design, the program makes it almost impossible to regulate the  protocols needed to prevent COVID-19 contagion. Farmworkers are forced to work in close proximity and share close living and eating quarters, as well as being transported on a daily  basis in vans and buses in large groups. The current protocols are not enforceable and have huge gaps, giving individual corporate farms  loopholes. This sets up scenarios with potentially deadly consequences  for farmworkers and rural communities that are already under served in  healthcare, transportation, and infrastructure.

There  is no plan for protocols to prepare for the influx of additional H2-A workers once the  season begins. Furthermore, there has been  no protection for those H2-A workers that are already here—not during their long-distance travel, nor now while they are living in crowded  housing and working in close contact in the fields. 

In Oregon: E-mail Oregon Foreign Labor Certification Coordinator Dora HerreraIn Washington: E-mail Employment Security Department Executive Operations Dir. Nick Streuli.


Information on farmers and CARES act from Farmers Market Fund. Information on H2_A program and photo of farmworkers on bottom left from Community to Community.

Farmers' Markets Innovate to Provide Food, Support Local Farms

"The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves
has changed how we define normal. And that new normal may be the status quo
for weeks or even months ahead."

In announcing that the Beaverton Farmers Market was planning to offer a drive-through option for shoppers, manager Ginger Rapport put it bluntly, writing, "To say that these are difficult times is an understatement. The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves has changed how we define normal. And that new normal may be the status quo for weeks or even months ahead."

Farmers' markets are a vital link in a vibrant local food system.

On Tuesday, March 16, Oregon Governor Kate Brown released an executive order addressing the health threat from coronavirus (COVID-19), stating that all food establishments that offer food or drink are prohibited from offering or allowing on-premises consumption of food or drink. The order also prohibited public gatherings of 25 people or more.

In seeking clarification on the order, the Oregon Farmers Market Association (OFMA) presented the case to the governor's office that farmers' markets should not be classified as gatherings or events but are, rather, open-air grocery stores and a vital lifeline for local farmers and producers. Closing them would be tantamount to cutting off a critical food source for the community, and could force many family farms out of business. In addition, the case was made that the food in farmers' markets is subject to much less handling, since it does not go through warehouses, distributors, or store staff.

Farmers' markets are already implementing safer practices.

So it was with great relief that, in a bulletin on Thursday, March 18, updating the Governor's statement, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) clarified that the prohibition "does not apply to essential businesses and services, including workspaces, grocery stores, retail stores, convenience stores, farmer's markets, banks, gas stations, hotels or motels, health care facilities, pharmacies, childcare facilities, state or local government or schools."

In fact, Oregon farmers' markets had already begun implementing practices to protect shoppers and vendors from transmission of the virus and, out of an abundance of caution, were already discussing various ideas for getting products to their communities.

North Carolina shoppers demonstrate social distancing.

In advance of the ODA bulletin, two markets, Beaverton Farmers Market (top photo) and Hillsdale Farmers Market, decided to pivot to new models including a drive-through option at the Beaverton market where market shoppers can shop from the safe distance of their vehicle. Hillsdale canceled its regular market stall set-up and is offering online pre-ordering direct through farmer vendors, with pick-up at its regular location on market day. Both markets have mobilized to help vendors set up online ordering systems.

"COVID-19 has disrupted our routines," wrote Hillsdale market manager Eamon Molloy in the market's newsletter. "In order to keep people healthy and maintain the recommended safe social distances, we will not conduct a regular market. Farmers and food vendors are setting up pre-order portals and taking orders by email."

In a notice on the OFMA listserv, Kelly Crane, the organization's Executive Director, said that she would begin discussions on purchase of a group license for an online ordering system for interested member markets.

Pritha Golden, Market Director at the Hollywood and Lloyd farmers' markets, outlined the reasons that her markets would remain open as usual and described practices that have been instituted to keep shoppers and vendors safe. "Farmers' markets are essential," she stated. "Despite the current health crisis, food remains a basic human need, and we provide access to nutrient-dense food. With our ability to space out our vendors, provide an open-air market, and relieve stresses on grocery stores, we aim to support the safest food shopping options."

Go to online ordering and information about the drive-through option at the Beaverton Farmers Market.

Go to online ordering information at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.

Go to OSU Small Farms Team: FAQ for Small Farms and COVID-19.


Previous: Farmers' Markets Taking Precautions Over Coronavirus Concerns

Photo of social distancing in North Carolina by Debbie Roos.

Farmers' Markets Taking Precautions Over Coronavirus Concerns

Even with relatively few cases of coronavirus in Oregon, the state's farmers' markets are serious about keeping their customers safe.

"I think that we need to do everything we can to show customers that we care about their health and [that we] are doing everything within our power to help them protect themselves," according to Ginger Rapport, market manager of the Beaverton Farmers Market.

Market managers have been sharing information, resources and training strategies for their vendors through the Oregon Farmers Market Association listserv. Most are planning to increase the number of handwashing stations and will have hand sanitizers available for customers and vendors to use. Bleach wipes will be available to use on porta potty doors, ATM screens, credit card machines, tables and other common surfaces, and at least one manager said that market staff will be required to wear gloves when counting tokens and cash.

Most are planning to remind vendors to wear gloves if they are handing out samples, and will be sharing information on social media about the precautions the market is taking to keep customers and vendors safe.

"Seeing others take extra precautions often makes all of us be a bit more careful," said Eamon Molloy, market manager of the Hillsdale Farmers Market.


UPDATE: Farmers' Markets Innovate to Provide Food, Support Local Farms