Coronavirus Chronicles — Can Farmers’ Markets Adapt?

A customer can make a seller’s day by asking intelligent questions during a lull — or ruin it by monopolizing and distracting her, when several other customers are clearly waiting for a chance to trade their currency for fresh rhubarb.

A seller can make a buyer’s day in any number of ways that don’t cost a cent. Actually, by a strange quirk of psychology, there is very little you can do to annoy customers who took the trouble to seek you out because they love your broccoli.

The previous post took a nostalgic look at farmers’ markets as they have been, until the pandemic descended. If this type of retail outlet survives, it will be different henceforth. Right now, states and cities experience individual reactions. In mid-March, Governor Newsom of California received a letter from “hundreds of farmers, organizations, and other concerned citizens” asking the Dept. of Public Health to make…

[…] a statement affirming the essential role Certified Farmers’ Markets play for California’s farmers, economy, and communities across the state, and equating Certified Farmers’ Markets with grocery stores and other retail outlets for the purposes of COVID-19 containment policies.

This is important because in a health crisis, a non-essential business is a closed business. The farmers had to make a case for the markets to remain open, and they offered several reasonable arguments. Compared to a supermarket, the supply chain is shortened, meaning that fewer people handle the goods, meaning less chance of contamination. In the open air, there is a better opportunity to move away from a coughing stranger, and the air is, well… open.

Allegedly, the customers do not stay as long (although that is hard to believe). The tables and shades that make up a market stall infrastructure are lightweight and minimalist, which encourages more thorough and frequent cleaning. Also, adds Contributing Editor of Civil Eats Twilight Greenaway,

At a time when many low-income and newly unemployed people will likely be struggling with food access, farmers’ markets are also seen as one of a small number of places to buy affordable fruits and vegetables.

This point, of course, is important not just for low-income people, but for any-income people who are interested in recently-picked produce and other farm-fresh goods because they hope to optimize their physical health and avoid obesity. Many city dwellers appreciate food whose provenance they have at least some likelihood of knowing. If the sign and the truck say “Purple Plum Farm,” there is a chance that you might one day take a ride outside of town and pass by the farm and see the plum trees. This can mean a lot.

In Los Angeles, green markets are not a frill for yuppies. It’s a big city and, as Carla Hall points out in her article for LA Times, in many of its neighborhoods, such establishments are the best — and maybe even the only — source of fresh food.

Mayor Garcetti put all the farmers’ markets on hold — but only until they could file, with the appropriate city agency, plans to “limit ingress and egress and maintain social distancing.” Hall wrote,

The mayor did the right thing in suspending the markets. But the city must do the right thing by making it easy — not just less difficult — for farmers markets to submit their safety plans and get them approved. This can’t be a typical bureaucratic wait-forever process to get the city‘s approval. Make farmers markets show they can comply and then let them reopen — quickly.

In San Diego, the eponymous San Diego Markets comprise three sites. The company’s permits were cancelled, then almost immediately restored after CEO Catt Fields White made a public statement objecting on behalf of everybody, that included these words:

People with already compromised immune systems are nervous about the lack of availability of food they rely on to stay healthy in the best of times.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Fight to Keep Farmers’ Markets Open During Coronavirus,”, 03/19/20
Source: “Opinion: Farmers markets can’t stay open if L.A. keeps treating them like spring break,”, 04/01/20
Image by Roger Mommaerts/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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