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.

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: Cultivating Community

I've been covering farmers' markets in the Northwest for more than a decade, starting with my weekly Market Watch column in the Oregonian's FoodDay to regular posts right here on Good Stuff NW about what's coming in from our region's fields and forests. One thing that's always impressed me about our market scene is the sense of community that exists not just between farmers and their customers in the market, but among the farmers and vendors themselves. This month's Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter brought that to mind again, and I thought I'd share with you market manager Ginger Rapport's reflections on that topic.

Our mission at Beaverton Farmers Market has always been to cultivate community. Yes, we believe that bringing fresh local foods to the Beaverton community is a large part of our mission, but without building strong relationships with community members, vendors and farmers we cannot succeed in delivering the other. We believe that’s what keeps you coming back to the market even more than the growing number of fresh food choices you can choose from (we’re very fortunate to live in an area that has many). We foster community.

Building relationships with customers and each other.

This past weekend proved that we have been successful in our efforts, as the community came together to help one another out. Long before shoppers hit the market our crew and vendors are busy setting up in the early hours of the day. While the market may open at 9 a.m. in the fall, our staff and vendors are already on site at about 6 a.m. preparing for the day. Last Saturday began when one of our vendors had the misfortune of having her car break down in the market. After vendors and market staff moved her car out of the way in the market, Ron Lilienthal of More-Bees, sprang into action to troubleshoot his neighbor’s car. He didn’t want her to be stranded once the market was over. Being the handy guy that he is, he borrowed some tools from the market, ran out for a part and was able to make repairs so that she could leave the market at the end of the day.

Building relationships cultivates community.

Early in the day on our staff had received word from both Denison Farms and Gathering Together Farm that they were stuck in standstill traffic on Interstate 5 North with all lanes blocked. Sadly, there was a multiple car accident with injuries and a fatality. We were saddened by the news, but grateful that our vendors were safe, just delayed. Both vendors were able to make it to the market some time after opening. Once the farms arrived, the Beaverton Farmers Market really rose to the occasion—vendors, market staff, and even customers chipped in first to unload Denison Farms’ truck. After Denison Farms was set up, Tom Denison came over to help pitch in at Gathering Together to get their booth set up as well. Customers, employees, market staff and other vendors were stocking produce in baskets and unloading boxes and pallets. We appreciated the patience of our customers and the camaraderie of our community as we worked through the rocky start.

We like to think of our market as a microcosm of a small town—some days are rougher than others, but we’re all working together to make this market the best it can be: a place to gather with neighbors, new and old alike, providing fresh local food and relationships.

Salad Smackdown: Nectarine and Cherry Salad

Ginger Rapport's newsletters for the Beaverton Farmers Market are worth getting for the information and recipes she shares (click here to subscribe). Her deep knowledge of produce shines through, helped by her passion for cooking and education. Here she talks about the luscious Northwest peaches and nectarines tumbling into midsummer markets.

What is the difference between a peach and a nectarine? They are genetically almost the same with the exception of one gene, the one that determines if it will have a fuzzy or  smoothskin. A nectarine is basically a bald peach. They may be used interchangeably in recipes but as far as fresh eating goes, people can have strong opinions about which is best. Many people prefer nectarines because they don’t like the fuzz on a peach. It is more of a textural thing than it is about taste. However, nectarines tend to be firmer, sweeter and more aromatic than their fuzzy cousins.

To peel or not to peel?

Both peaches and nectarines come in “freestone” varieties, which means that the fruit separates easily from the pit and “clingstone” varieties where the flesh clings tightly to the pit. Freestones are better for freezing while clingstones are better for canning.

If you are making a recipe that calls for removing the skin of a peach or nectarine, we recommend the following method:

With a paring knife, make a small "X" in the skin on the bottom of the fruit. Then drop it into a large pot of boiling water for 10-20 seconds. You may do multiple fruits at a time as long as you are able to get them all out of the boiling water within a few seconds of one another. You want to loosen the skin, not cook the fruit.

Roasted nectarines, anyone?

Immediately place fruit in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Starting at the X on the bottom, lift the skin away from the fruit. It should peel easily if your fruit is ripe. If your fruit is under-ripe, peeling will be more difficult and may require a paring knife. (This is also how you peel tomatoes.)

Peach and nectarine season has a very small window where it overlaps with cherry season. One of our favorite—and totally easy—recipes that features both is this nectarine and cherry salad with roasted hazelnuts featuring Baird Family Orchards nectarines, Kiyokawa Family Orchards Bing cherries, and Ken and June's dry roasted hazelnuts.

Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts

1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced
1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.

Get more fabulous peach (or nectarine) recipes for desserts, jams, salads and even cocktails! The Beaverton Farmers Market is an advertiser and supporter of Good Stuff NW.

Tomatoes? Hold Your Horses!

Blossoms are showering our sidewalks with pink snow, tulips and daffodils are out in full force, so it must be time to plant our vegetable gardens, right?

Patience is a virtue when it comes to tomatoes.

Not so fast, according to Ginger Rapport of the Beaverton Farmers Market, a seasoned plant maven. "Now is the time of year to get your peas, kales, rhubarb, broccoli, beets, carrots and some lettuces in the ground," she said. "It is not the time for planting tomatoes and basil unless you plan on keeping them protected from the cool temperatures and rain."

Another voice of reason comes from Chris Hertel of Sun Gold Farm in Forest Grove. "Don’t be fooled and have patience," he cautions. "We can’t mess with Mother Nature! We can only work with her. Too much rain and cold weather will either harm your tomato plant or make it weak."

Radishes and greens? Have at it!

Those garden center tomatoes that are waving their leafy appendages at you, begging you to bring them home and plant them in some nice, richly composted soil? They're grown in heated greenhouses, said Hertel. "The plants are not conditioned to anything that Mother Nature is giving us now. If we wait and have patience, the nights will get warmer and days will be drier. That usually happens around Mother’s Day weekend."

So go ahead and get your spring yayas exorcised and plant rows of those hardy spring greens and root veggies, and wait until the soil temperature gets up to at least 55 degrees—60 is even better—to plant those tomato starts. Your summer will be that much sweeter with a little added patience along with that compost.

In Season: Galangal, Lemongrass and Turmeric

In the most recent Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter, market manager Ginger Rapport offered a primer on using galangal, lemongrass and turmeric. Normally thought of as exotic ingredients, they've been adapted to grow in Oregon's maritime climate and are now being grown by several local farms. Find them at your neighborhood farmers' market, as well as at Rubinette Produce or other stores that carry produce from local farms.

Galangal

This flavorful tuber (top photo) is the spicy cousin of ginger and is prized in Thai cuisine for the citrus-like flavor it imparts to soups and its burst of herbal heat in curry pastes. Usually found in Asian grocery stores, you can also find organic galangal at Denison Farms’ booth this Saturday alongside fresh lemongrass and turmeric.

galangal2.jpg

Galangal’s knobby tubers are prepared much like ginger. To be recipe-ready, they are usually peeled and then minced, sliced or grated. It is possible to substitute ginger for galangal when it is unavailable, but we recommend you make the effort to use this zingy aromatic when it is in season. According to Cook’s Illustrated magazine, galangal’s distinctive piney flavor is best used in savory dishes as opposed to sweet dishes where ginger is a better option.

tom_yum_soup.jpgSince fresh galangal is not available all year round, we recommend putting a stash of peeled fresh tubers in your freezer for use when it is out of season. While you are thinking in advance, we recommend freezing lemongrass as well. Together, they provide the exciting flavors required for a variety of delicious dishes including soups, curries and sauces. To freeze lemongrass, trim stalks to the bottom six inches, then transfer to zip-lock bags and freeze.

Galangal is a critical ingredient in the popular hot and sour Thai soup known as Tom Yum or Tim Yam (above right). And, while it's possible to substitute ginger for the galangal, why bother when you are lucky enough to access the real thing? The combination of spicy aromatics, flavorful broth and tasty add-ins make this the perfect dish for our chilly winter days.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a stalky plant that gives dishes a zesty lemon flavor and aroma. Look for stalks that are fragrant, tightly formed, and a lemony-green color on the lower stalk.

lemongrass.jpgTo prepare lemongrass, remove tough outer leaves to expose the pale yellow interior that is softer and easier to slice. Use a sharp serrated blade to slice off the lower bulb, about two inches from the end of the stalk. Discard bulb. Stop slicing when you have cut two-thirds of the way up the stalk, or when it is no longer yellow and fleshy. Because lemongrass is so tough, the slices will need a to processed in the food processor on high, or pounded in a mortar and pestle for a minute or two.

Fresh Turmeric

Livelier than its dried form, fresh turmeric has bright orange flesh and is earthy, peppery and slightly bitter. Like ginger and galangal, it is usually peeled before using.

turmeric_roots.jpgStore fresh turmeric in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, or airtight container, or freeze it for several months. In recipes, one inch of fresh turmeric is equivalent to one tablespoon freshly grated turmeric, or 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric.