Coronavirus Chronicles — Farmers’ Markets Struggle to Keep Up

Fresh, local produce is important to many kinds of people, including those who want to avoid obesity. The people who care, really care a lot. More is at stake than just the near future, as the country deals with the pandemic. The fear is that if this isn’t handled right, farmers’ markets will be lost forever. Childhood Obesity News has been looking at how officials, sellers and buyers are adjusting.

In normal times, the tiny Sebastopol, California, farmers’ market was open for only three hours a week with only about 20 vendors, and not much has changed. Manager Carla Rosin hastened to assure the public that being outdoors is safer than frequenting a brick-and-mortar grocery store, because social distance is easier to maintain. Several new rules were also established, and life goes on.

Further up the West Coast, Seattle categorized farmers’ markets as “large gatherings” similar to parades and concerts, and closed them down, while several neighboring Washington State counties deemed their markets to be essential. By mid-April, Seattle had allowed at least two locations to reopen, with stringent regulations in place.

Journalist Suzanne Phan wrote,

At the University District Farmers’ Market, the line to get in wrapped around the block the entire day… Staff only allowed 60 people inside the market at a time.

Back East, the state of Virginia, like many others, contains not only farmers’ markets, but you-pick operations, and small roadside homemade produce stands. These are precisely the types of businesses that the federal disaster loans were supposed to rescue, but the program almost immediately ran out of money.

The governor ordered farmers’ markets to follow the takeout and delivery guidelines designed for restaurants. Of course those enterprises are very different, but it seems like a sensible response on short notice.

Cat Modlin-Jackson told Virginia Mercury readers about an online service that allows customers to order directly from farmers, and then pick up their produce at curbside. Of course, this plan leaves out people who are unable, for whatever reason, to place orders online — but again, it is better than no solution at all.

In Philadelphia, Twilight Greenaway of Civil Eats and local correspondent Alexandra Jones collaborated on a story, writing:

The farmers’ markets run by Food Trust have remained open, but Farm to City, which runs five year-round markets in the city and suburbs, has closed theirs. Last Wednesday, farmers’ market program manager Jon Glyn felt comfortable moving forward with weekend markets on the guidance of Philadelphia Department of Public Health officials as long as vendors followed guidelines. But on Monday, Farm to City sent an email notifying vendors that the markets on Saturday, March 21 would be cancelled.

In other words, confusion reigned as authorities measured pros and cons, searching for answers that would do the most good for the largest number of people. The U.S. Department of Agriculture feels that local governments are in charge of these matters. Like several other states, Pennsylvania declared farmers’ markets to be essential businesses. But translating that precept into actionable principles has to be worked out on a case-by-case basis.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Virus takes a toll on the farmers market,”, 04/01/20
Source: “Reopened Seattle parks, farmers’ markets give hint of normalcy amid shutdown,”, 04/18/20
Source: “Beating the virus: Farmers markets and growers adjusting to COVID-19 restrictions,”, 04/15/20
Source: “The Fight to Keep Farmers’ Markets Open During Coronavirus,”, 03/19/20
Image by Eugene Kim/(CC BY 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.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


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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