The spring farmers’ market season is underway in Maine. Maine’s farmers’ markets are opening for the season and proactively responding to the Covid-19 public health emergency. The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM) reports that farmers’ markets are changing their physical layouts, locations, market rules, sanitation measures, and social norms to keep the public and farmers safe. There are more than 120 summer farmers’ markets providing critical fresh food access to customers and a means of livelihood to more than 2000 farmers and local food businesses. MFFM encourages all shoppers to regularly check their local markets’ websites, newsletters, and social media pages for market-specific updates during this time.
Farmers’ markets are considered an essential business in Maine, per Governor Janet Mills order. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry issued guidelines that helped clarify expectations and best practices for farmers’ markets during Covid-19. MFFM is coordinating with market managers to translate these best practices into action, troubleshoot challenges, and develop market signage and other resources. “It’s the the busy season for farmers and nearly all of Maine’s farmers’ markets are organized and run by volunteer-farmers,” says Jimmy DeBiasi, Director of Programs at MFFM. “Market managers are working many extra hours to organize their markets so they continue to run smoothly during this uncertain time, and we should be grateful for that!”.
At farmers’ markets this spring, customers can expect a different environment for their overall shopping experience. Markets have adjusted their vendor booth layouts so that they’re spaced further apart. At some markets, like the Bridgton Farmers’ Market, shopper flow will move in one-way directions to avoid bottlenecks and assist in maintaining a safe physical distance. Many farmers are accepting online pre-orders, to limit the shopping time at market. Farmers are pre-bagging and pre-pricing more products, rather than having their customers purchase loose products by the pound.
Derek Degeer of Hootenanny Bread reports that “people generally waited patiently when necessary, wore masks, and seemed in good spirits” at the Crystal Springs Farmers Market in Brunswick, which relocated to the Brunswick High School until further notice. Carolyn Snell, of Snell Family Farms, notes “we’ve got 3 Portland summer markets under our belt now and it’s going very well. We have one-way flow and it really helps. People are following it more and more at each market. As a vendor it feels so much more calm than the old days, honestly, to have a unified flow.”
In this time of uncertainty, farmers’ markets will continue to provide fresh food access to all members of their community. Through the Maine Harvest Bucks program (MHB), more than 30 farmers’ markets offer bonus bucks to shoppers using SNAP/EBT. MFFM expects a surge in shoppers using SNAP at farmers’ markets this year due the increased enrollment in SNAP that is underway as a result of the pandemic. “We hear from many people that the Maine Harvest Bucks program is incredibly helpful for accessing healthy food options on a limited budget” says DeBiasi. “This year, MHB markets are likely to play an increased role in fighting food insecurity among Mainers who are impacted by this pandemic.”
There are other programs at farmers’ markets that help people in need. Many markets have vendors who accept WIC Farmers’ Market checks and participate in the Maine Senior FarmShare Program. Additionally, there are gleaning groups that bring tons (literally!) of fresh produce from markets to food pantries each year.
To find out where farmers’ markets are located this year, visit www.mainefarmersmarkets.org and click on the “Shoppers” tab on the menu. You can find markets by day of the week, or search for one close to your zip code. Also, check your local markets’ Facebook pages and websites to see if there are any changes to their market schedule or location.
MFFM’s mission is to cultivate a vibrant, sustainable farmers’ market community as a vital part of Maine’s local food network. The Federation works with farmers, consumers, and communities to make wholesome, locally-grown foods available to all residents, to educate consumers about food resources, and to support farm viability.