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.

Magic Mushrooms: Wild Mushroom Duxelles

I love my little upright freezer. It allows me to buy berries with impunity, pulling them out on cold, rainy days when I desperately need a reminder that summer will, indeed, come again. And because I usually had my nose in a book when my mother was hauling out her big speckled enamel canner, all I have to do now is dump the roasted tomatoes from the grill into freezer bags and pull them out when pizza or pasta requires saucing.

On those nights when it's time for dinner (again???) and ideas are in short supply, I can open the door, survey the stocks, meats and sauces and come away with armloads of inspiration.

So when a couple of pounds of Springwater Farms'  gorgeous fresh mushrooms followed me home from the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, I tore them up, sautéed them with some shallots and white wine and spooned them into a couple of freezer bags. It's pretty much guaranteed that soon I'll open that door again and hear a whisper about ragu or risotto or chowder. 

Wild Mushroom Duxelles

2 lbs. wild mushrooms
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1/4 c. dry white wine or dry vermouth

Tear or slice mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Heat oil in a skillet, add minced shallots and sauté briefly to warm them. Quickly add mushroom pieces and sauté until they release their juices and pans looks dry. Add wine and sauté till most of the moisture is evaporated. Allow to cool. Can be used immediately or put in freezer bags and frozen for later use.