Alternative Farmers Market Models
Farmers markets serve as outlets where farmers and other producers can sell their products and as social spaces where people gather with others in their community. In March 2020, these collective events were upended when COVID-19 restrictions caused the shutdown of many farmers markets across the country. Many markets that were able to remain open, made substantial adjustments to their operations to comply with new public health guidelines and recommendations.
Farmers Markets were compelled to alter their models in a variety of ways at the onset of the pandemic. They conformed to social distancing guidelines and other public safety requirements which allowed them to remain open and continue serving vendors and customers safely and effectively. Some changed to contactless drive-thru or curbside models, where customers pre-ordered products online or by phone and picked it up in their vehicle. Others opted for crowd control measures or limited entry designs, allowing a limited number of visitors into the market at a time to allow maximum social distancing. In addition, some markets changed their model altogether from a traditional farmers market to a local food aggregator.
Farmers markets proved to be resilient. By changing models to meet the needs of both vendors and customers, many markets were able to continue serving their communities. However, these operational shifts placed immense stress and new responsibilities on market operators, market staff, and volunteers. After weighing the successes and challenges posed by these changes, some market operators have opted to move forward with making these adaptations more permanent. In some cases, this means creating a “hybrid” market model combining online and in-person sales. Other markets plan to "return to normal" when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Unfortunately, others still may decide market operations are no longer sustainable in any form (Feldman & Creps, 2020).