How my farmers markets are adapting to the pandemic. By Penelope Sofia, Environment CA Intern, UC Davis Class of 2020

The Norcal farmers markets were once bustling lively places, full of people shopping for the upcoming week, children running around, friends chatting, and live music. For most of the last year, I’ve worked for a vendor at many farmer’s markets. Every weekend, I wake up at 4 am to pick up around 20 cases of avocado and 14 flats of strawberries and drive to whichever farmers market I am assigned to.  

When this global pandemic broke out, my hours at the coffee shop were reduced to almost zero, leading me to question my farmers market job. I assumed they would no longer run given the social distancing guidelines. So I was surprised when my boss texted me my schedule. 

The markets have adjusted accordingly, and in some ways, it might be more beneficial to shop there than at the supermarket. According to health experts people are less likely to catch the virus outdoors than indoors. People should still follow social distancing guidelines to keep safe while outdoors. This has been one of the arguments in regards to opening public parks and beaches. Vendors are taking precautions: placing themselves six feet apart and putting up caution tape which prevents the guests from touching the produce. At the supermarket, customers can pick up groceries and put them down as they please. Essential businesses such as restaurants have been allowed to continue operating. The farmers market can be considered an essential business.

Customers and workers alike are all wearing protective gear and some people have gotten creative with their masks. At each stand, one person handles the transactions while another bags the produce for the guests so there is no cross contamination between the money and produce. My bosses have also included a hand washing station for us to use in between changing our gloves, and provided masks and gloves. Customers wait in line six feet away from each other and they are more patient than before. 

The farmers market is a great example of how resilient the community is. The continued support for these markets is great for people’s mental health because it’s a way we can hold onto a sliver of our previous normal lives while taking the necessary precautions to keep everyone safe. This past Saturday, I worked in my hometown, so I was able to serve some of my regulars from the coffee shop.  This pandemic has created a feeling of disconnect to my community and while working at this specific market and seeing my old regulars gave me the ability to return to that feeling of life in Davis from before. 

Shopping at local farmers markets is also good for the environment. It means people are eating in-season produce and, in general, the produce does not need to travel as far, thereby reducing transportation emissions — now the number one source of global warming emissions.

The farmers market also promotes sustainable practices. Almost all of the utensils and plates are compostable or recyclable, people are encouraged to bring their own bags, and we give out paper rather than plastic bags if guests do not have their own. I have even served customers who bring their own Tupperware to store the strawberries they buy. Finally, given the location of the market, people tend to walk or bike to the farmers market rather than driving.

Farmers markets are a great way to participate in the community. There is a face behind every product you buy. The transactions at the farmers market are more personal, and people can get to know the farmers of their favorite produce. People see familiar faces every time they visit and create connections with them.  When I shop there, I always buy flowers or plants, but when I go to the store I never think to do so. Buying flowers always lightens up my room and brings me joy. 

When I first started working in the pandemic, I assumed that the farmers market would be empty. However, people are out and about with their new routines while maintaining social distance. Almost everyone is wearing a mask. We thank one another for coming out. People are grateful they have somewhere to be without the worry of infecting others.  A lot of customers were shopping for their elderly neighbors or loved ones with compromised immune systems. With farmers markets, we can continue sustainable practices while also adapting to these crazy times safely.