Farmers markets in Vermont lobby to remain open

Correction: The Bennington Farmers Market has not secured permission from state regulators to remain open. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported their status.

Food producers and consumers winced last month when Vermont ordered the closure of all farmers markets in the state to minimize spread of COVID-19.

Some markets have taken measures to remain open, and others aim to follow suit, according to farm advocates.

Bennington Farmers Market, for instance, organized a pre-order and drive-through system before the statewide ban took effect.

The March 21 market ran relatively smoothly, according to the group’s Facebook page, and vendors are raring to resume business on Saturday, with many reporting they have sold out.

The group is aware that it runs afoul of Gov. Phil Scott’s order that only allows “essential” businesses, such as groceries, pharmacies and hardware stores, to remain open.

“Technically, we’re outlaws,” John Primmer, president of the market’s board of directors, said Thursday morning.

By Thursday evening, Primmer added, producers and organizers would decide whether to flout the governor’s  order.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Primmer, who also runs Wild Stone Farm with his wife. “We’re doing way above what’s going on in the supermarkets in terms of public health.”

Vermont’s emergency rules recommend but do not require supermarkets to switch to pre-orders and pickups.

Legally, farmers markets have neither option.

“I understand the caution,” Primmer added. “The governor is doing a fantastic job. We’re searching our consciences and staying in touch with the Department of Ag.”

Burlington’s farmers market closed indefinitely on March 14.

Other farmers markets have successfully petitioned state regulators for exemption from a ban on “non-essential” businesses, according to Rural Vermont, an advocacy nonprofit.

“Farmers’ markets that ensure adequate physical distancing and sanitization protocols can be as safe if not safer than grocery stores,” Rural Vermont posted on its website April 1, adding that Bennington’s model follows strict health-safety rules.

More: Vermont’s small farmers determined to survive as coronavirus shuts down restaurant sales

Access to local foods through the state’s network of farms “is of utmost importance to the health and resilience of all Vermonters,” the post adds.

Rural Vermont, as well as the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA), encourage producers and farmers market operators to specify how they can remain safe — and to petition the Agency of Commerce and Community Development for an exemption to the current ban.

NOFA’s guidelines for markets hoping to avoid a silent spring include:

  • Online/phone pre-ordering.
  • Delivery options.
  • Bagging of loose produce.
  • Easy access to hand sanitizers and gloves for customers and vendors.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting all “high-touch” surfaces such as tabletops, payment equipment, restroom fixtures and trash cans.
  • Six-foot distancing markers.
  • Prohibition on food and drink consumption on the premises — including samples.
  • No live music or children’s activities.
  • Early-opening hours for people at a higher risk of infection, as well as pregnant women.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.

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