Many of us are heading back to a “new” normal life — even so, COVID-19 is still present and a persistent threat. So we have to find ways to navigate the world while keeping ourselves safe from an invisible enemy.
This reality comes during the prime season for farmers markets and roadside stands. Farmers selling produce through these venues need to consider how to keep business rolling while also protecting their customers.
My family had a roadside stand for over 25 years. We sold our own produce along with some specialty crops from neighbors. Our clientele was mostly older, and many became friends over the years. Back then we didn’t worry so much about viruses. But food safety was always a concern.
So I’ve been interested to see how farmers are adapting to the pandemic. Is there a way to sell fresh food directly to the public and remain safe? It’s an important part of income for many farms, so there has to be a way to make it work. I’m certainly not an expert on infectious diseases, but I’ve compiled a list of changes farmers can consider to keep farm markets safe this season.
1. Enforce social distancing
Social distancing is the best recommendation for limiting spread of coronavirus. Stay six feet away from others. It can be incredibly hard to do this in a crowd of people. But it’s important to try. Consider marking the floor at places where customers tend to congregate or line up. Post signs on entrances and near check-out stations. If the space is small, consider limiting how many people can come in at one time, and make others line up outside.
2. Consider a drive-thru experience for vulnerable populations
Customers love stepping into the farm market and taking in the sights and smells. It’s an awesome sensory experience. But for the most vulnerable populations, that experience could also make them sick. So consider giving those populations the option of a drive-thru service. These customers can stay in their vehicles while farm-market workers fill their orders and safely bring it to the car.
3. Provide hand sanitizer
Workers should definitely have access to running water and wash their hands often. But markets should consider giving hand sanitizer to customers too. I’ve seen a number of businesses that have sanitizer conveniently at the door. So customers use it on the way in, and on the way out. If that’s not feasible, certainly have sanitizer available near the check-out location.
4. Reduce produce handling
I know, I know. People like to touch the food. They want to squeeze peaches, smell the cantaloupe, and peel back the corn husk. But if they have dirty hands, that could make someone else sick. The fewer people who handle the produce, the better. Consider asking customers to pick out produce without touching it. Better yet, eliminate all touching by having produce prepackaged.
5. Ask people to wear the damn mask
It amazes me how many people resist wearing a facial covering. Sure, it’s hot and some people have difficulty breathing. But it’s a small inconvenience that might save lives. Ask people to wear a covering when coming into the area, especially where food is present. Consider providing masks to make it super easy. And if someone refuses to wear a mask, offer to serve them outside of the actual space.
6. Provide plastic gloves
If people just have to touch the produce before buying it, consider offering them plastic gloves to wear. My mom recently stopped to buy asparagus but was turned off when she saw other customers rifling through it without gloves and without masks. Again, this isn’t a big ask, but it’s another layer of protection.
7. Remind customers to wash the produce
We should always wash fresh produce before eating or cooking with it (but don’t wash your meat!). You just never know who touched it in the field, during transportation, during stocking, or while on display. Just wash it by running it under water for 20 seconds. Again, it’s a small step that can help protect you and your family from any illness, not just COVID-19.
Farmers are usually pretty careful to produce safe food. In times like these, we need to be more thoughtful about it and take some extra precautions. The biggest risk is person-to-person transmissions, and that’s not something we’re used to worrying about. Hopefully these suggestions help keep your customers and workers safe, and keep your business open throughout the season.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.