Farmers markets scaling down with eye on safety due to virus


Johnny Gyergyou has been selling his farm´s meat, poultry and eggs at a Detroit farmers market for more than a decade, but like many of his regular shoppers, he´s been staying home in recent weeks to wait out the coronavirus crisis.

Gyergyou, 72, said the crowds at Eastern Market just aren´t big enough to make it cost-effective for his typical 33-mile (53-kilometer) Saturday trips into the city from his farm in Berlin Township.


“We´ve been doing fairly well (selling) at the farm. It´s not Eastern Market sales by no means, but at least it´s helping us along here,” said Gyergyou, who added that he´s heard other vendors say they were scared to sell in Detroit, which has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus.

Farmers, growers and operators of open-air markets are heading into one of their busiest times of year while facing the added challenge of the coronavirus. The disease has led to stay-at-home orders and the closure of nonessential businesses in many places, and has killed more than 60,000 people in the US and at least 230,000 worldwide.

Shoppers venturing to farmers markets this spring are likely to see a lot fewer vendors and fellow customers. The ones they do see will be taking precautions to guard against the spread of COVID-19, such as the wearing of face masks and frequent use of hand sanitizer. Many markets have already taken other steps, including turning to drive-thru shopping, reducing their hours of operation and using fencing for crowd control.

Nearly all of the hundreds of Saturday morning shoppers at Eastern Market wore masks and there was ample spaces between vendors.

“Three weeks ago, it was nearly empty,” said Carrie Simpson, 48, of Wyandotte outside of Detroit.

Saturday was her fourth visit to the market since fears of the virus forced businesses to close and people to stay home. Simpson bought eggs, plants and herbs and said she drives to Gyergyou’s livestock farm for her meats.

“I want to support the farmers. Their sales are down,” she said.

The farmers market in Overland Park, Kansas, has been relocated to the city´s convention center, where patrons drive past vendors who bring produce to their vehicles. About 35 vendors participated on April 25 and vehicles were at the gate when the market opened at 8 a.m. About 700 drove through before a 2 p.m. closing, said Meg Ralph, a city spokeswoman.

In Vermont, officials are requiring all farmers markets to be held outdoors and have banned entertainment, children´s activities and cooking demonstrations to prevent people from congregating in small spaces. The Bennington Farmers´ Market was scheduled to reopen on Saturday as a pre-order drive-thru market. And in the state´s quaint capital city of Montpelier, the Capital City Market was prepared for pre-order pickups and in-person shoppers, with no more than 10 people allowed in the market at a time. Vendors must be spaced 12 feet apart and wear face coverings and gloves.

Such precautions can take some of the joy out of outdoor shopping, but that´s the price of safety.

“They won´t be able to talk about recipes (or) their families – converse about the kids, like they normally do,” said Myra Gorman, market manager for the farmers market in Evanston, Illinois. “Some of them will share phone numbers so they can do that stuff later.”

The market just north of Chicago typically attracts as many as 7,000 people on a Saturday. This weekend, 35 vendors will be set up and only 105 or so customers will be allowed inside at any time. Once inside, all the thumping, touching, smelling and grabbing of fruits and vegetables will be replaced by pointing by mask-wearing customers to mask- and glove-wearing vendors.