Supporting Your Local Farmers’ Market during COVID-19

Farmers’ Markets are a community hub for fresh, healthy, local, and immunity-boosting foods. The Berkeley Farmers’ Markets are teeming with delectable fruits, vegetables, grains, cheeses, and other treats. Surrounded by friendly faces, you might see your friend or neighbor shopping and be reminded that food can build community. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we think about local food, reshaping how farmers’ markets operate.

Early in the pandemic, farmers’ markets were deemed “essential services” by the CA Dept. of Food and Agriculture (CDFA); and the CA Dept. Public Health (CDPH) released safety guidelines for farmers’ markets to operate safely and responsibly. While many markets have quickly adapted to social distancing measures, not all markets have the capacity or resources to open safely and some have closed down for the season. The impact of the pandemic has left some communities without their local market, hurting farmers that are ready to sell their goods. This is why it is critical to support local farms and access to healthy food, because farmers’ markets are essential, always.

What’s wonderful about farmers’ markets is that they allow for the public to buy fresh, locally grown produce, face to face, from real farmers and farm workers. This gives the consumer the power to make sustainable choices for themselves and the environment. By purchasing food directly from farmers we know where our food comes from and who is growing it, building a connection from farm to fork. Better understanding of food systems can help communities reclaim their health, traditions, and land. 

Farmers’ Markets also help alleviate food security issues by providing open-air shopping locations and nutrition incentives that increase access to healthy foods. Across the state, many farmers’ markets participate in Market Match, California’s healthy nutrition incentive program. This program allows market shoppers to double their dollars when buying fresh fruits and vegetables using their federal nutrition assistance benefits (e.g. CalFresh and WIC). By allowing customers to use electronic benefits transfer (EBT) at Farmers’ Markets, customers can make healthy food choices by increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they buy each week. Market Match also helps increase sales for diverse, small and mid-size farm operations that depend on food outlets like farmers’ markets, CSA’s, and restaurant accounts to sell their products. Supporting small farms is important because in addition to making healthy food accessible, they also preserve regional farmland biodiversity by implementing sustainable farming practices, including water conservation and soil health improvement. Market Match is offered at over 290 markets across the state and additionally offers its program services and materials in English and Spanish to help accommodate markets and farmers across the state. 

By offering produce with shorter supply chains and less food handling, farmers’ markets can help reduce your carbon footprint. Produce sold at farmers’ markets generally travels less than 100 miles from the field to market, compared to 1,500 miles through standard distribution channels to grocery stores. Many farmers also try to make the most out of their trips by making sales to restaurants, wholesale, and retail buyers during their same trip to the farmers market. In compliance with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, many restaurants have limited their services to pick-up only, reducing their need for fresh produce. While this has been a crucial step in flattening the curve and keeping the community safe, this was a big blow to small farmers that rely on this income stream. 

At this time, safety is critical and farmers’ markets across the country are working tirelessly to create safe and accessible shopping spaces for community members to purchase a wide variety of healthy foods. You can help support these efforts by continuing to shop at your farmers’ market and donating to the organizations that run them. Shop local. Shop sustainable. Find your farmers’ market at! You can find the Berkeley Farmers’ Market locations here and subscribe to our newsletter to receive emails with events, seasonal recipes, and updates.

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