Normally I don't bring up personal issues on Good Stuff NW. It's here to help me understand and then explain to you the issues around our food system and how it works, and how we can support our local farmers and producers by eating seasonally from the bounty our region offers. But then something came up that needs to be addressed.
Over the weekend Dave had an accident and was loaded into an ambulance and whisked off to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). I haven't seen him since that moment.
To its credit, OHSU has forbidden visitors, even family members, from the hospital, due to the danger of COVID-19, especially the surge of cases from the Delta variant that is burning through the country. This surge is primarily among the unvaccinated, who account for more than 80 percent of new cases in Oregon and nearly all of the deaths.
So your vaccination status is directly affecting me.
I can't be there to hold Dave's hand, to stroke his cheek, to arrange the covers on his bed, to give him a cup of water, to call the nurse if he needs assistance. I can't get to know his nurses; I can only be his advocate from a distance.
This is because there are people out there, and I'm hoping my readers are not among them, who refuse to get vaccinated against the virus. They are causing it to spread and filling up our hospitals and ICUs, exhausting our already strained health care system, not to mention the essential workers in that system. (Obviously I'm not talking about those few who can't get the vaccine for health reasons, or about children under 12 who are not yet eligible. They're victims, too.)
And those unvaccinated people are keeping me from caring for my husband.
If you have a relative or friend who is unvaccinated, share this story with them. They're the reason Dave is lying in a hospital bed alone with only overburdened hospital staff to make him feel loved and cared for.
I met Mark Doxtader of Tastebud when I wrote the Market Watch column for the Oregonian's FoodDay section, and he was running his wildly successful wood oven pizza business—one of the city's first mobile oven businesses at the time—at the Portland Farmers Market. He has consistently offered Portlanders the highest quality handmade breads, bagels, pizzas and salads—not to mention that heavenly porchetta—made from locally grown produce and meats. Like Cory Carman's essay from last week, I felt this message from his newsletter was invaluable to understanding what the people who make up our food system are dealing with.
For continued safety and precaution, we ask that everyone continues to wear masks when picking up orders. With the confusing “progress” we have made in the pandemic, playing it safe and remaining cautious has served the community well and allowed us to stay open. It has only been a couple weeks since we moved our pickup table from the doorway to just inside our shop. It felt like a baby step forward, although mainly spurred by the extreme temperatures outside.
We are tired and a little weary but still in a holding pattern. But we are committed to waiting out the pandemic and and are hopeful for some additional government assistance to make the changes we are in need of to adapt to a modified service style. Doing to-go only for the last 18 months has been a temporary solution to our global crisis. Although we have all adjusted, modified and survived thus far, we continue thinking about and focusing our intentions towards our next iteration. We remain patient and dependent on the health and safety of our staff and community.
We are a very small crew. In the last year we have had two fulltime employees who have been with us five years each. In addition, we have three people who are part time, who also live with me, and a sprinkling of friends that have dependably pitched in. And last but most definitely not least, we have my two daughters who have been integral and vital to the last year, in keeping our doors open and me "sane." These are the vaccinated folks that are keeping us running.
At this very moment, we all are nervous and not so comfortable with “opening up," especially as we existed before the lockdowns. It is really hard to imagine how it all used to operate in such a small space—can’t imagine how we used to squeeze 11 staff and 40 guests inside. As we can see in the world, and now with the dramatic domestic COVID uptick, this pandemic is really not over. Not even close.
We enjoyed the short “loosening," but we just don’t see a path that takes us back to how things were. The old way of our industry has revealed its cracks. And we are not comfortable just plugging those holes and moving on. Working in the service industry will not be the same, nor should it be. Late nights, low wages, rampant substance abuse, unfair, unpredictable and misguided tipping systems, and more entitled and rude customers who just seem out to make overt political statements when going out for dinner.
After non-essential services were mandated to close, I explained to my youngest daughter that I wasn't sure if another customer would ever set foot in our dining room. I was not sure if we would go out of business or if our operation would fundamentally change to survive a new world. My goal when this all went down was to stay consistent and dependable as much as humanly possible. Not changing hours, not changing service style, trying to keep my family, staff and community safe. Trying to stick with what folks know us for, pizza inspired by the farmers. I am so thankful for the community that has supported us through all of this.
So, ultimately, we are spending days and nights trying to imagine and plan what Tastebud 5.0 will be, in what is our 21st year of operation and 6th year in Multnomah Village. Ideas range from more pizza, more bagels, more breads, chicken dinners, lunch sandwiches, bakery, coffee, private dining, mutual aid, and how we can support disadvantaged communities. We are waiting for a committed pivot to fulfill our goals and not continuing this temporary setup that is keeping us afloat. We are hoping the restaurant revitalization fund will come through, but we are not holding our breath.
I hope we all stay safe, heathy and vigilant and that we see you soon.
If you're planning on going to your farmers' market this weekend, be aware that markets will still be under state mandates that require mask-wearing and social distancing, despite the new guidelines issued yesterday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We have confirmation today from Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) that markets and other businesses should not be making changes before getting new guidance from Oregon Health Authority [OHA]," according to Rebecca Landis, market director of the Corvallis-Albany Farmers' Markets.
Governor Brown announced in a press conference that updated guidance will comefrom Oregon HealthA in the next few days for businesses, employers, and others to allow the option of lifting mask and physical distancing requirements after verifying vaccination status. "Some businesses may prefer to simply continue operating under the current guidance for now, rather than worrying about verifying vaccination status," she said.
For the time being, that includes Oregon's farmers' markets.
UPDATE 5/19/2021: Portland Farmers Market announced on its Facebook page today that it will continue to require masks at the market.
"On May 18, OHA released updated guidance about mask and physical distancing requirements for individuals fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“'In public settings where vaccination status is not checked, masks will still be required.'
"Thank you in advance for continuing to wear a mask at the farmers market, as our staff will not be verifying vaccination status. Read Portland Farmers Market’s full COVID safety guidelines. Your efforts to make this space safer for everyone are appreciated!"
UPDATE 5/22/2021: Oregon farmers' markets are allowed to require vendors, shoppers and staff to wear face masks, according to the latest guidance from OHA:
"Businesses, organizations, employers or other entities in control of indoor or outdoor public spaces may continue to require masks, face coverings and face shields. Individuals should be aware that some businesses, organizations, entities, events or facilities may require more stringent mask or face covering requirements and may exclude from their premises those individuals who, regardless of their vaccination status, fail to comply with those requirements."
I'm not normally a person who lives in the past, sifting through decisions or the lack thereof, weighed down with regrets (not that I don't have some, mind you). I tend to move forward instead, looking at tomorrow with anticipation of what it might bring. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to look at the major stories I posted in 2020, a year, as so many have already said, unlike any other in living memory.
First up, on January 13, was a big moment in the 14 years I've been writing Good Stuff NW, and that was a top-to-bottom redesign of this blog, originally begun as an exercise in a new marketing medium that turned into a whole new career as a journalist.
But now to the proudest moments of the last year:
Your Food, Your Legislature
I'm extremely proud of this annual series of reports that follows Oregon's yearly legislative sessions at the Capitol in Salem, focusing on the bills that affect our food system. They give a comprehensive look at legislative process, from the inception of bills, through the committee processes that can amend, kill or pass them on to be voted on in the House and Senate chambers. These reports give you the chance to express your opinions to legislators, which I sincerely hope you do. Look for the new series to start in January on the 2021 session.
I have been publishing contributor Anthony Boutard's missives from Ayers Creek Farm since 2007, almost exactly a year after first starting this effort. Anthony and his wife, Carol, have been instrumental in teaching me what conscientious, thoughtful, respectful farming looks like, and what it means to steward a piece of ground. His always-stunning prose, as well as his and Carol's friendship, has shaped this blog in ways beyond counting, and I encourage you to read back through them both here on the new site and in the archive. You won't be sorry.
Farmers' Markets Take on the Pandemic
When COVID-19 hit in March, there was no guarantee that our up-to-that-time robust local food system would survive. With the governor instituting a lockdown that month and with a great deal of uncertainty about how the virus was spread or how long it would last, restaurants closed down and grocery stores were being inundated with shoppers "stocking up" (i.e. panic buying) dried beans, canned goods and paper products. The future of farmers' markets was uncertain, but working with state officials and pivoting on a dime as regulations changed, our open-air markets have thrived and provided a lifeline to our small farmers. I'm proud my series of reports on this topic has kept the community informed.
This story originated when I was talking with my neighbor about her extensive vegetable garden. She mentioned that she'd just found out that the gorgeous organic compost she bought from a supposedly reputable local company was contaminated with pesticides. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) became involved, and a lawsuit seeking compensation is in process. It's a story you can be sure I'll be following as it develops.
The intense wildfires that raged through Oregon this past summer and early fall had a devastating effect on our rural food system. Many of our farmers and ranchers lost homes, livestock and fields of crops ready for market, some barely making it out with their lives. Many had to move themselves and their animals multiple times to stay ahead of the unpredictable flames. This on top of a punishing pandemic that has no end in sight. Really, 2020?
Dungeness Crab: MIA
I love our local shellfish and the family-owned businesses that comprise the bulk of Oregon's coastal fishing industry. This story explains the too-opaque, behind-the-scenes machinations by powerful players stifling progress in the name of profit and hurting our food system. (Not to mention our holiday dinner plans.)
This week it was Steve Jones's Cheese Bar. Before that it was Andy Ricker's Pok Pok empire. The Portland restaurant industry website Portland Food and Drink shows more than 80 restaurants, pubs and related establishments have closed since the pandemic struck in March of this year.
Due to spiking positive cases of COVID-19, on Friday Governor Kate Brown declared a two-week statewide "freeze" on top of the "pause" she announced just the week before. She warned that Multnomah County was one of five that might have to brace themselves for at least a four-week shutdown, possibly stretching into mid-December, if not longer.
The news of this latest shutdown hit Oregon's restaurant and hospitality industry hard. On Sunday, the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon (IRAO), formed in response to the pandemic to assist restaurants in responding to the crisis, issued a letter to Governor Brown and policy makers requesting that they convene a special session of the legislature to address the issues faced by Oregon's small businesses.
Noting that nearly nine percent of Oregon's workforce is employed by the industry, the letter, signed by more than 300 members, said that restaurants and bars aren't like hardware stores. "We can’t just flip a switch and walk away," the letter states.
"When restaurants close, the entire supply chain is disrupted, from root to roofline," the letter continues. "Sixty five percent of the revenue from independently owned restaurants and bars recirculates in the local economy. In addition to the nearly 200,000 Oregonians who are employed by restaurants and bars, our closure directly impacts bakers, fishers, butchers and Oregon’s 34,000 small farms."
While acknowledging the seriousness of the pandemic and the need to take swift action to keep communities safe, the IRAO letter reminds policy makers that government needs to take responsibility for the economic damage these mandates have inflicted on the state's small businesses.
"We've made $2,000 this entire year," said Emily Anderson of tiny P's and Q's Market in Portland's Woodlawn neighborhood. "A government mandate should come with government support. Something's got to give."
My name is (your name). I am a resident in your district. Due to coronavirus, many restaurants in my neighborhood won’t survive the winter. As you may know, most restaurants don’t actually make money on food, but on alcoholic drinks. If these businesses do not survive, the heart of my neighborhood will be ripped out.
I’m writing to ask that you take immediate action to help restaurants and bars survive, such as an extension of the commercial eviction moratorium and the ability to sell cocktails to go. With emergency requirements that both reduce occupancy and hours of operation during the pandemic, having another method of generating revenue would provide businesses a lifeline for survival. As they face the long-term structural challenges that COVID-19 has imposed on business, which was designed to be a gathering space, they are desperate for sustainable tools to help navigate the new normal.
Restaurants and bars account for nine percent of all employment in Oregon. And nearly 65 percent of the revenue from these businesses recirculates into the local economy keeping vendors, landlords and employees afloat. This small change to Oregon statute will help us keep businesses open and bring people back to work.
This is an URGENT REQUEST. Without your help now there’s a very good chance places of business in my neighborhood will be permanently closed by the next time the legislature convenes.
"We are lucky to live in a state with relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases, however, the recent increase in cases has shown us how easily that could change if we do not remain vigilant." Ginger Rapport
Oregon's farmers' markets are open and, as always at this time of year, over-flowing with strawberries, blueberries, cherries, summer squash, beans and all the incredible produce typical of early summer in the Pacific Northwest. What's not typical are the behind-the-scenes gymnastics that have been required to keep the markets open as Oregon officials and farmers' market representatives wrestled with establishing guidelines to keep both vendors and shoppers safe.
Local farms and ranches were hit hard by the closure of restaurants that bought in large volume and prominently featured locally produced meats, seasonal produce and grains on their menus. Many quickly pivoted to offering CSA subscriptions, online sales and home delivery to make up for some of the lost revenue. But the closure of the state's more than 120 farmers' markets would have been the death knell for many farms and ranches, not to mention a potentially crippling loss of revenue for communities, since farmers' markets return more than three times as much of their revenue to the local economy than do chain (grocery) competitors.
State guidelines for farmers' markets require vendors and staff to wear masks and practice safe distancing, as well as limiting the number of customers onsite and designating "social distancing officers" to enforce social distancing policies. The guidelines also require making aisles wider and spacing market booths six to 10 feet apart.
"I need to place vendors, particularly large farms, in a spot where I can give them enough space for a line that is safely spaced for customers," Molloy said, adding that, for the most part, vendors have been helpful and cooperative.
"Social distancing remains our biggest challenge," said Ginger Rapport, market master of the Beaverton Farmers Market. "Managing the lines that form with customers standing six feet apart, and managing the flow of traffic is something that requires our constant attention."
The need to maintain distance between booths and allow customers room to social distance while shopping has decreased the number of spaces available at markets, most of which operate within a limited footprint. This means that many markets have seen a decrease in stall fees—being forced to pare down to "essential" vendors, or having some at-risk vendors choosing to skip this season—which has created challenges for markets in terms of generating income for paying staff and overhead, according to the Oregon Farmers Market Association's Melissa Matthewson.
As one of the largest markets in the metro area, Rapport said that her market has had to reduce the number of usable spaces for vendors by about a third, a significant number in a market of that size.
"This means a loss in income to the market which, as a 501(c)(4) [nonprofit that promotes social welfare], doesn't operate on large margins," Rappot explained. "It's a balancing act to reduce expenses while trying to be understanding of vendors needs at such a difficult time."
"The market is one of the few outlets for income for many of our small businesses and farms whose wholesale outlets (i.e. restaurants) have dried up, or whose fairs and festivals have been cancelled," she said. "For many we are the only game in town. There's a lot of pressure to keep the market functioning while trying not to completely drain our reserves."
In the pandemic's early days back in March, it wasn't at all certain that markets would be allowed to stay open at all. Strong advocacy on the part of the OFMA and the state's farmers, along with a willingness to collaborate with state regulators and remain flexible as policies shifted, turned the tide in favor of keeping markets open.
As for the rest of this season, Hillsdale's Molloy is cautiously optimistic.
"We are playing it week to week. We know how to run a pre-order market and are ready to turn it on if we have to do that," he said. "As long as customers comply with our mask rule and we work at keeping safe physical distancing, we will be running the way we are now."
The OFMA's Matthewson said the public will play a big part in helping markets survive. "The best way that customers can support these markets is to continue to shop there if they are able, and also to consider donating to the market as an investment in their long term viability," she said.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been common at food processing and meatpacking plants across the country, sickening and killing emplyees working shoulder-to-shoulder in enclosed buildings, often without the personal protective equipment (PPE) or proper air circulation needed to keep them safe and prevent the spread of the disease.
In the latest outbreak here in Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority reported on Tuesday (7/7) that 22 people were sickened at the Columbia River Processing plant that produces cheese and dairy products for the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA). The report said that number may include household members and other close contacts to employees. An outbreak is defined by two or more cases linked to a common place.
The OHA's Joell Archibald said the agency was notified of the first positive test from an employee at the Tillamook plant on June 16th, almost three weeks ago, and began working with county and municipal public health staff in the area. She said that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the names of employers would not normally have been released, but that under pressure from media and the public, state leaders decided on publicly releasing the names of companies where 5 or more cases were linked to a single employer; when the case count (including contacts) reaches 20, the company's name goes on a list in the OHA daily report.
OHA public information officer Timothy Heider said that an employer is notified by the employee when the employee receives a positive test result for the virus. Heider said that when the Oregon Department of Agriculture visited the plant on June 17, it was determined that there was adequate PPE and at that point "the company implemented containment control measures such as physical distancing and face coverings for employees." He also said that no deaths from the outbreak at the plant have been reported as of July 9th.
According to the procedures agreed on by state leaders, though, neither the employee's co-workers nor the community at large were informed until the 5-case threshold was met and the employer's name was released publicly. In short, this means that those workers and their contacts could be circulating in the community—shopping at the same stores and touching the same door handles, for instance—for days until the threshold is met.
Stand Up to Factory Farms, a coalition of local, state and national organizations concerned about the harmful impacts of mega-dairies—Tillamook is dependent on giant factory farm dairies for its milk supply—issued a statement today that said this outbreak “underscores the vulnerability of the factory farm system and the workers in it. As cases continue to increase, it's unconscionable that Oregon is moving forward with permitting a new mega-dairy, Easterday Farms, that will exacerbate the extreme consolidation putting workers at risk. Oregon needs a mega-dairy moratorium and meaningful protections for food and farm workers now.”
For Tillamook's part, CEO Patrick Criteser issued a statement on the company's website assuring investors and the public that the pandemic has not disrupted their manufacturing operations or supply chain. In a statement the company said that three of the employees have already recovered and been cleared to return to work, while the rest are recovering at home, according to an article in the East Oregonian. "Those who are recovering at home or are quarantining after being identified as a close contact are receiving full pay and benefits," the company said.
The health authority's latest statewide weekly reportshowed that from June 29 to July 5, COVID 19 continued to surge with 1,910 new cases, an increase of 51 percent over the previous week.
The Morrow County Health District, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, the Morrow County Health Department, Morrow County Emergency Management and the Morrow County Sheriff's office—all public entities involved in responding to the outbreak—were contacted with questions about what procedures were followed at the Columbia River Processing plant when the county learned about the outbreak. They referred all questions to the Oregon Health Authority, which is quoted above.
I'm gonna lay it all out on the line here. I am not a happy camper when I cannot see my friends, as the kids say, "IRL"—in real life; to hear their stories, watch their faces erupt into guffaws, or catch the tiny nuances at the corners of their mouths or the glint in their eyes (talking to you, Anthony Boutard).
Facetime or Zoom meet-ups are not the same as those face-to-face, real-time moments. I get that it's necessary if your family or friends live across the country and electronic connections are better than once-a-year, holiday trips. But a pandemic's a pandemic, especially when cases are spiking, and no one wants to get sick or make their loved ones or communities sick, much less kill them.
So how do you socialize in person and still keep yourself and others safe?
Some recommendations are obvious: Stay outside.Wear masks. Keep at least six feet between each other. Or, as Melissa Clark said in a recent New York Times article on entertaining in a pandemic, "the only way to bring people together is to figure out how to keep them apart."
While admitting that there's no way to host a gathering that is 100 percent safe, Clark said it is possible to reduce risks. I agree with her advice to use the comfort threshold of the most anxious person in the group as your guide, since the point is to spend quality time together, not give someone PTSD.
This takes communication with your guests, both in the planning and setting of expectations for the gathering.Clark goes so far as to discuss appropriate bathroom protocols with her guests, but we've chosen to solve that problem by limiting the length of time spent at the handful of happy hours we've had with good friends and family. We have yet to break the dinner barrier, but will be doing that this weekend, again with lots of planning and discussion of comfort levels.
My best advice is to keep it simple. Dave has mastered the art of making cocktails while wearing a mask and gloves, and I've managed to cobble together our meager collection of trays so each party has their own individual appetizer serving. Dips and salsas are easy to spoon into cups or bowls, cheeses can be divided into individual wedges and crackers or chips can be parceled to avoid the problem of reaching into a common serving bowl.
Wine is easy, since one person can be the designated "pourer" so multiple people aren't handling bottles. Paper napkins and sanitzer have become a part of the tablescape, with bleach wipes available as well.
Below is an easy white bean spread that makes enough to be divided, and has been a hit at a couple of our cocktail hours. I'm just happy to be seeing friends again!
And if you've got some bang-up suggestions for entertaining in a pandemic, e-mail me your ideas and what you've learned. I'd love to do a follow-up post!
Tuscan-style White Bean Spread with Capers
1 15-oz. can cannelini beans, drained (or use 2 c. cooked white beans) 1 medium clove garlic 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste 1 tsp. dried thyme 1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice 3 Tbsp. olive oil 1 Tbsp. capers (or more if you adore them like I do) 1-2 Tbsp. parsley, minced (optional)
Put beans, garlic, salt, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil in food processor and process until smooth. Using a spatula, scoop bean purée into medium-sized bowl and add capers and parsley. Stir to combine and adjust salt. Serve with bread, pita or crackers.
We've all read about the outbreaks of coronavirus in meatpacking plants across the country, but other workers in our food system have also been impacted by the spread of the virus due to lack of protective equipment,crowded working conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals that make them more susceptible to the virus. The Hillsdale Farmers' Market's assistant manager Azul Tellez Wright wrote about these issues in its newsletter.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the inequalities that people of color face in the U.S.
Nationwide, people of color (POC) are more likely to fall ill with COVID-19, an upsetting truth that is reflected here in Multnomah County. A study conducted by the Multnomah County Health Department in April showed that 40 percent of coronavirus cases in Multnomah County were POC even though they only comprise a third of the population. POC are more likely to hold essential worker positions, such as the thousands of agricultural workers whose jobs have not stopped as the pandemic has descended.
On top of that, many employers aren’t putting sanitation and distance requirements in place and aren’t providing their employees with personal protective equipment. Many migrant workers live in close quarters, making quarantining impossible. Federal guidelines for farmworker labor camps allow four people in a 10 feet-by-20 feet space, which is roughly the size of a garden shed. [A petition from the nonprofit Oregon Law Center is proposing stricter regulations to protect farmworkers, including changes to transportation, work and living areas to allow workers more space and ensure proper hygiene, according to the Oregonian.]
Despite paying taxes and being considered essential workers, immigrants cannot access the public benefits that many Americans have come to rely on the past few months. Immigrant and undocumented workers were also excluded from the stimulus checks that came as a reprieve for most Americans in March. In the event that they do get sick, many farmworkers are also not eligible for state or employer healthcare.
Clearly, the inequities that farmworkers face are made far worse by COVID-19. There are a number of local organizations that are listening to Oregon’s farmworkers and working with local and state agencies to provide protections against the COVID-19 outbreak. Causa is an immigrant rights organization that works to improve the lives of Latino immigrants and their families through advocacy, coalition building, leadership development, and civic engagement. Consider donating to Causa’s Worker Relief Fund which collects money to go directly to farmworkers families who were excluded from the federal stimulus package.
Woodburn-based PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Farmworkers and Treeplanters United) is the largest Latino union in Oregon. They are raising money for their farmworkers emergency fund to support former and current undocumented workers affected by COVID, which includes farmworkers. The Oregon Latino Health Coalition is another organization that has been working with local and state public health agencies to increase protections for farmworkers. [Another organization working to improve conditions for farmworkers is Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a farmworker justice organization currently striking against dangerous working conditions and lack of protective equipment at fruit companies in Washington State.]
"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.
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.
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 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.
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."
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."