Farmers’ Markets Provide a Welcome Option for Fresh Local Food!

Farmers’ markets in London and Middlesex County are open for business! While we mostly stay at home and practice physical distancing, many of us still regard an outing to gather groceries an essential trip. Grocery stores are also doing their best to keep their spaces safe, but we know that crowds and lineups have occasionally developed. Luckily, more food outlet options are on the horizon! Farmers’ markets in the Middlesex-London community are open for business. When you go to a farmers’ market, not only will you have access to many of your grocery store necessities, but you will also be able to bring home the freshest restaurant-quality ingredients. 

A farmers’ market offers a different experience from a grocery store. Even at a careful distance, you get to recognize growers and build relationships with them while learning about the origins of your food. In many instances, you get to stay outside in the fresh air that we’re all craving, with enough space to feel secure. When you purchase at a farmers’ market, you support your local economy and help reduce carbon emissions from the hauling of food. Finally, by shopping close to home, you reduce the crowding of public spaces in the grocery stores and elsewhere.

To make sure that shoppers and vendors are as safe as possible, Farmers’ Market Ontario has released public safety protocols for farmer markets so that you feel confident in your shopping choices! There are two options that farmer markets can follow.

Option 1: Protocols for the multi-vendor, multi-stand market (for food sales only)

Market managers must first ensure their landlord approves of the reopening. They will then contact their local public health unit and present their health and safety plans for reopening. The FMO COVID-19 Fact/Info Sheet is then given to vendors and shoppers, while records of all active vendors/volunteers are recorded daily. When walking into the market, hand sanitization for vendors and shoppers are required and continuously restocked. Though it’s not required, The Western Fair Market even does active screening of every shopper when they arrive and turns away anyone who does not pass. Vendors must also wash their hands and sanitize their stations regularly. Each vendor must be adequately spaced so that circulation can be monitored. Unlike regular operations, shoppers will not be able to sample food or use reusable containers. All of these regulations will be put in place alongside the maintenance of social distancing (2 meters apart).

Option 2: Protocols for E-Commerce/E-Market protocols

This model is for markets that plan to operate an e-commerce model with a drive/walk-through pickup for pre-ordered and prepaid food. Similar to the previous model, market managers must also ensure their landlord approves of the reopening while contacting their local public health unit. The market must provide the local health unit with a plan displaying traffic circulation, and a delivery plan which includes physical distancing measures. This model also highlights the importance of hand sanitization. Before starting, vendors and volunteers must be screened for COVID-19, ensuring that they are healthy, and have not travelled outside of Canada recently or have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. All surfaces where orders have been placed must be continuously cleaned. Each food product will be prepackaged in single-use containers with proper labelling. Finally, all refrigerated and frozen items must be stored at proper temperatures. For more information on these protocols visit: https://www.farmersmarketsontario.com/covid-19-modifying-market-operations/

As farmer markets have been identified as an essential business, the Middlesex-London Health Unit has also posted their recommendations. In terms of setting up, it’s recommended for markets to create a diagram of the layout. When creating this layout they should consider the flow of traffic making shopping an ‘in and out’ process. Social distancing of 2 metres is maintained by reducing the number of vendors and customers purchasing at once. Prior to attending the market, vendors must submit the Market Vendor Form to the Middlesex-London Health Unit. All vendors who show any symptoms of sickness (fever, cough, sore throat, etc.) will not be able to attend the market. It is encouraged that payment is done through cashless methods. Payment devices and high-touch surfaces will be disinfected multiple times a day. Similar to the regulations we see from the government of Ontario, sanitation resources must be provided for customers and vendors. The health unit also prohibits the use of customer-supplied containers and food sampling while limiting customers’ contact with food. Markets can also consider taking orders before opening and offering pick-up service. In addition, the health unit advises markets to consider prepackaging food and having only vendors handle products. For more information on these recommendations visit: https://www.healthunit.com/covid-19-resources-workplaces#Setting-Specific-Guidance

You may still need to visit a grocery store now and again, especially one in your own neighbourhood. But with the abundance of farmers’ markets in the Middlesex-London area, there’s plenty of room to shop and support our local economy!

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