May 04, 2021 at 05:03PM

While the events of the past 14 months have forced major changes across industries, especially among food sellers, farmers markets have had the unique advantage of being primarily outdoor events, making mid-pandemic operations possible with certain anti-COVID regulations. Now, as temperatures warm, farmers markets are beginning to reopen across the United States for market season — and they will likely benefit from newly-vaccinated consumers’ desire to reconnect with their communities.

“Farmers markets are defined by their capacity to build direct connections and ‘short circuit’ the conventional food system by bringing farmers and community members together in the sale of locally-produced food,” researchers summarized in a recent study that appeared in Nutrition Journal. “They are community food spaces with the potential to connect communities and producers, provide infrastructure to support small sustainable farms, and support resilient integrated systems that are essential in times of crisis.”

In fact, in Chicago, the Lincoln Square Farmers Market is returning a month ahead of schedule, following CDC-recommended COVID-19 safety procedures, with many vendors offering order-ahead, grab-and-go and curbside pickup options for consumers who remain wary of public spaces. The market also specifies, in its 2021 Market Guidelines for Shoppers, that electronic payments are preferred and that customers must use hand sanitizer as they enter.

In Minnesota, farmers are noting that the market this year already has a distinctly different feel than last. Tim Thoreson, owner of Thoreson Farm, told the Post Bulletin, “There isn’t [the] uncertainty we had last year. I think everyone knows what to expect.”

“This year, it’s going to be fun,” Daniel Miller, owner of Easy Yoke Farm, agreed. “We’re excited about this season. I think it’s even more so, because when you go through a hard time and things get back to normal, it feels that much sweeter.”

In some areas that imposed stricter antiviral measures last year, the 2021 season will be the first time the market returns to normalcy since 2019. In Virginia, for instance, the Charlottesville City Market switched to a to-go model in 2020, which ended up cutting down the number of participating vendors from over 100 to just 38, reports The Daily Progress.

“We weren’t able to host everybody that we could in our traditional market operations,” Justin McKenzie, manager of the market, told the publication. “When we switched to the to-go model, a lot of vendors weren’t comfortable with it. It was a brand-new system and some people just weren’t sure what the turnout would be.”

Now, the market is working to return to its previous in-person location later this month. In Iowa City, the Iowa City Farmers Market is returning for in-person operations as well, after going digital for 2020. As Carrie Wall of Ineichen’s Tomatoes recalled to KCRG, “It was very heartbreaking, and mainly because you don’t get to see your customers. You start to build a relationship that is amazing and you look forward every year.”

Now, as customers are returning to the physical market, Farmers Market Coordinator Tammy Neumann told the publication, “It just shows how loyal this community is to this farmers market. It’s kind of a cornerstone. It’s just wonderful that it’s here, it’s back.”


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