Farmers Markets

Shuttering Farmers Markets Over COVID-19 Is Stupid, Dangerous, and Counterproductive

Especially during a pandemic, Americans need access to healthy food.


Farmers markets, a vital link in the food chain for many U.S. consumers and small farmers, are under threat across the country as lawmakers and regulators scramble to restrict public gatherings in the face of COVID-19.

Seattle, where I live, last week ordered city markets closed until April 15. An in Virginia, a bill would temporarily close markets throughout the state.

"Seattle—where the spread of coronavirus began earlier and is further along than in most other parts of the U.S.—[recently] announced that all farmers markets would close for at least a month," Greenaway wrote this week in a must-read piece in Civil Eats. "Seattle suspended all large gatherings and the markets have been lumped together with parades and public parties."

Lumped though they were, several farmers who normally vend at the Sunday market in Ballard, a vibrant Seattle neighborhood filled with breweries, restaurants, bars, clubs, and funky shops located near my home, showed up to sell their food despite the city ban. Some argued the markets are safer than grocery stores.

"And honestly, if you're gonna go buy produce, would you rather go into a really crowded [grocery store] right now, or would you come into an open-air market where everyone's actually observing social distancing and keeping everyone apart?" one Ballard market vendor told local NPR affiliate KUOW this week.

In Ballard, consumers were there to meet the farmers.

"I'm here today to support both the community and the farmers and to make a statement to the City of Seattle that we need to be supporting local farmers and that the farmers market should not be shut down," Ballard market customer Mary Purdy told KUOW.

While Seattle's markets are closed, markets elsewhere are open—including, for example, in Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; and the Bay Area.

Indeed, California declared the state's farmers markets "essential to the functioning of our state" and said they "must continue," along with other activities such as allowing grocers and charitable food pantries to remain open. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut have issued similar declarations.

The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC), a nonprofit that seeks to strengthen farmers markets around the country, thinks markets should have the choice to remain open. And it's outlined several steps to accomplish that goal while addressing farmer and consumer safety—including eliminating food sampling, requiring vendors who handle money to wear gloves, and promoting social distancing recommendations.

If lawmakers don't allow farmers markets to remain open, the impact on many small farm businesses will be swift, severe, and in many cases fatal.

As Greenaway notes in her Civil Eats piece, timing alone could spell doom for countless small farmers.

"[G]rowers are in the midst of buying and planting seeds, and planning for their busy time of year," she writes. "Losing the opportunity to sell at farmers' markets, on top of loss of sales to restaurants and institutions like schools, could be a devastating blow."

Many others are sounding the alarm.

"The fragility of our food system is evident right now, and it should be a time when society recognizes and supports the small farmers providing food for their local communities more than ever," says Judith McGeary, head of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (and, alongside me, a Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund board member), in an email to me this week. "If farmers markets are closed, though, not only will individuals have an even harder time finding food for their families, but many small farmers will go out of business—making the food system even more fragile as we get through this crisis."

Others agree.

"It is more vital than ever that small producers be able to provide fresh foods direct to consumers," says Alexia Kulwiec, executive director of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. "Losing the ability to provide food through the farmers' market could also be the last straw for small farms struggling to make ends meet in an agricultural economy already controlled by large corporate supported farms."

FTCLDF sent out an action alert to Virginia members this week, urging them to contact lawmakers in the state about the proposal to shutter farmers markets there.

"[F]armers markets are an essential service that tens of thousands of farmers and millions of consumers rely on them for their livelihood and their food access," said Ben Feldman, executive director of the FMC, in an email to me this week. "As most farmers markets are flexible, open-air environments they already offer advantages for shoppers and across the country are taking steps to implement best practices on social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID19."

Brian Coppom, who's both president of the FMC board and executive director of the Boulder County Farmers Markets in Colorado, told me this week that lawmakers should recognize that farmers markets are an essential service and must be allowed to operate safely.

Coppom's own Boulder County markets are among those forced by lawmakers to close temporarily.

"Our opening has been delayed 30 days due to limits on events, leaving almost 50 farmers without an outlet for crops that need to be harvested," Coppom tells me. "In addition to our general customers, we also have 1,100 low-income families every week that rely on the markets to put healthy food on the table and who no longer have access to that food."

It's easy to see how, as Coppom explains, shuttering farmers markets "exacerbates hardships across the board."

These small farmers aren't asking for a handout. All they want is to serve their hungry customers—to do business to stay in business—just like a grocer or a take-away restaurant.

I support most temporary restrictions on public gatherings in the face of COVID-19. Government mandating the temporary closure of places people normally congregate closely—from playgrounds to libraries, churches, bars, and dine-in restaurants—is a proper action that will help save lives. But farmers markets—just like grocers, pharmacies, and hardware stores—provide a necessary and valuable service.

Hence, farmers markets can and should still be free to operate provided they act to limit contact between and among consumers and vendors. If a farmers market manager, working with farmer vendors, determines a vendor or a market can't operate safely, then, by all means, the market should close until it can safely reopen—as has happened in Honolulu and New Orleans. If a regulator witnesses unsafe practices at a farmers market, that regulator should act swiftly to address the problem.

But closing farmers markets indiscriminately doesn't make Americans safer. And it harms the small farmers—some irreparably so—that many of us rely on to provide us with fresh, healthy, and tasty food. If this is the worst time in memory—and it is—then some lawmakers and regulators are targeting farmers, consumers, and the very institution of farmers markets at the worst possible time.

NEXT: Trump's Quiet War on Iran Gets Loud 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Evangeline Lilly refuses to self-quarantine

    Will reason bother to do a story or not? I really can’t wait to find out. Here’s a celebrity making a public plea for freedom, and getting shit on for it.

    1. Why? Shes a movie star. She doesnt live the same life the Average American does. Im not saying shes wrong in defying quarantine. Its just that lots of people are probably choosing to do the same or would if they had her money. Its only scandalous or controversial because she has status. These same people would equally shit on you, but in some sort of group denunciation, individually we’re not worth their time. Maybe she should just sing imagine and theyll forgive her.

      1. Why does she hate the elderly?

        1. Who doesnt? Taking up all the good parking spaces, 20 minutes to figure out they want a hamburger, not a cheeseburger.

          1. And then they hunt for exact change in their little pocket purses.

            1. And then realize they’re at the library.

          2. Do you have a pay_pal account ? because if you do you can add an extra 1400 a week in your pay-check working at home for three hours each day… check out this site…. Read More

        2. Why aren’t you dressed in sack-cloth and ashes?

        3. Why don’t the elderly take extreme measures instead of the rest of us?

        4. I am making $98/hour telecommuting. I never imagined that it was honest to goodness yet my closest companion is acquiring $20 thousand a month by working on the web, that was truly shocking for me, she prescribed me to attempt it……….Read MoRe      

      2. The LP’s next presidential candidate?

      3. Why?

        Because they’re a libertarian magazine and could stand to take a break from reporting that everyone on Earth getting tested for COVID-19 is an unquestionable good and listing their favorite pet businesses that need a break during this crisis.

    2. You have a pay pal ? because if you do you can make an additional 500 a week in your account just working on the laptop a few hours per day… check… Read More

  2. I think farmer’s markets are about as vital a backbone of our food supply as muffler shops. I mean, you take your car in, it takes about an hour so you’re sitting there in the waiting area, there’s a coffee pot and a vending machine full of snacks – do I have to draw you a picture?

    Yeah, I realize you’re in Seattle where farmer’s markets probably are just as vital as avocado toast, coffee shops with free WiFi, and free-range, fair-trade, organic vegetarian tires for your penny-farthing bicycle, but the argument should be that nobody should be forced to close their doors, not that some businesses are more equal than others.

    And besides, you’re in Seattle where half the population doesn’t believe in the germ theory of disease and rely on the auras of healing crystals to keep them safe from the coronavirus, so, yeah, I wouldn’t even be setting foot in public if I were you. (And I’m only being a tiny bit hyperbolic about that last thing, people in Seattle really do believe some crazy stuff. Living in a country so rich that you can afford to believe nonsense so pure that it would lead to a near-instantaneous death in countries where survival is more a day-to-day thing has its perks.)

    1. Yeah, I prefer we start with the premise that things should remain open until we recognize and quantify specific risks, but in the spectrum of heavy-handed closures I can’t shed many tears for farmers’ markets, especially in urban areas. In fact, if lingering effects of post-pandemic panic make people think twice about the urban hipster lifestyle, with high density living and working, crowded public and private spaces, and packed mass transit, I would count that as a win.

      1. lol. You’re crazy to think that anyone who prefers city living is an “urban hipster.” You have your own personal collection of preferences and hangups; not everyone shares them.

        Though, I get the sense the OP is a urban hipster just because of his priorities personal priorities:
        “I support most temporary restrictions on public gatherings in the face of COVID-19. Government mandating the temporary closure of places people normally congregate closely—from playgrounds to libraries, churches, bars, and dine-in restaurants—is a proper action that will help save lives. But farmers markets—just like grocers, pharmacies, and hardware stores—provide a necessary and valuable service.”

        Yea, there will be plenty of people arguing churches are more valuable than farmers markets, provided if you can go to a grocer and the farmers market isn’t the only source of produce available (doubtful in most cases). Not sure they’re going to be responding on Reason.

        Also, its questionable whether any of those other public places are more harmful to go to than farmer’s markets. The OP just has his own preferences and hangups.

        Not that on the issue alone, the farmer’s market closures make much sense to me. Why can an open-air market spread the virus more easily than a closed one? I don’t know. It seems like another arbitrary measure to me.

    2. Penny-farthing bicycle is Portland.

      Seattle would be a fixed gear bicycle.

      Seattle is hip, Portland is weird.

  3. I remember reading about Linnekin that he grows his own ‘organic garden’ so he probably feels like he needs to be overly preachy about the subject of organic vegetables and farmers markets for his once a week article.

  4. “would you rather go into a really crowded [grocery store] right now, or would you come into an open-air market where everyone’s actually observing social distancing and keeping everyone apart?”

    “I’d rather have all my food delivered, and for free.”

    1. Last time I checked the local farmers market here, they said they were all sold out of Cheezits and didn’t know when they would be getting more in, didn’t even seem to know when Cheezits-harvesting season began. Never had a problem with my Cheezits supply from Kroger. Plus, there’s all the other stuff Kroger sells that aren’t fresh fruits and vegetables.

      1. Doughnuts. This has purple inside. Purple’s a fruit

  5. What I haven’t yet seen on Reason is what I’ve seen myself in Illinois and that is parents with children being refused exams at nearly empty clinics because of the supposed threat of Covid19. I also was refused service at a dental clinic within a larger health clinic where I saw and talked to parents who were being turned away. The reason I was given for being refused emergency dental work was the same for the basic state wide shut down in Illinois: the shut down to prevent Covid19.

    But what is going to happen in 2 weeks or in 4 weeks with all those that have been denied service? So I see denying service now in nearly empty clinics as another example of a bad decision because denying now will mean a flooding later.

    But absolutely the logic of what is being shut down, and who is being hurt, small farmers and those who are working class and work paycheck to paycheck in the service industry are the hardest hit. And yet my friend who has a PhD in a science field but works in industry is working from home with a teleconferencing as is nearly everyone in his workplace . (I have a Phd in English lit but live on about $9000 a year, which is relevant since it is one indication of the serious econmic and job crisis in the US even before Covid, and which will seem intensified with Covid.

    Why is US policy hitting those that are working but among the lest stable the hardest when large scale testing would make so much more sense than shutting down the country, and shutting down basic health care and limiting safe food choices?

    1. Why is the government fucking everything up?
      There you go, I condensed your post to 7 works. The government has everyone whipped up into a frenzy over a common cold.

      FOSTA must look hilariously quaint now. You don’t need legislation, you just need a population afraid of the fucking sniffles.

  6. Screw this safety over freedom crap. If I still had my own place of business you can bet your ass it would be open.

  7. This a great question because here in Wisconsin farmers markets will open in a few weeks. I think they can open if people use some common sense. First they need enough space for people to spread out. Some markets are very crowded. Encourage people to space themselves and not get in a tight line. I don’t think we can let people pick over foods. It would be better to point and let the stand operators pickup and bag the item. I also wonder if people would be better getting a CSA and just getting a box of vegetables each week.

  8. I’m waiting for Baylen’s article arguing for the legalization of Chinese-style wet markets.

    1. And organically sourced tiger penis.

      We’ve clearly seen why Reason has had such a soft spot for socialists in recent years. There isn’t a whole lot of daylight between them these days.

  9. Especially during a pandemic, Americans need access to healthy food.

    If we all organically chicken soup hard enough alone together, we’ll get through this!

  10. Baylen Linnekin offers his opinions about restrictions, apparently he is willing to impose by force the restrictions he thinks are necessary, but thinks that farmers markets should be exempt. That makes him part of the problem, the problem being the disrespect of elitists and politicians for individuals making their own choices about how they want to live, and about how they want to deal with the coronavirus threat.

  11. The lure of FMs has always been lost on me. I’ve found that the produce in supermarkets is consistently better – and better priced – than the FMs’. As for the folks who shop at them, we’ll we won’t go there.

  12. You have made some nice information provide i really enjoyed this stuff I would like to thanks click here

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.