Farmers Markets ARE Essential

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In this near-Orwellian time of social distancing, curve flattening, and “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders, we are having even our smallest movements regulated and restricted. Given the dangers of COVID-19, many of these restrictions may be necessary to preserve our public health and to prevent overwhelming our emergency and medical infrastructures. However, the decision to close down Farmers Markets lacks common sense.

On April 10, 2020, the Vermont Agency of Agriculutre, Food, and Markets relayed to Vermont Farmers Markets Managers that they could no longer operate in any fashion based on Gov. Scotts categorizing of “essential” and “non-essential” businesses. This is extreme, and a mistake.

At least one market took enormous measures to create a safer system of ordering and pick-up. The Walloomsac Market in Bennington immediately set up a system for online ordering for all of its vendors, delivery of food and products to a central location, and then curbside pick-up. Many farmers and value-added producers were able to still sell their goods through this system, and market customers could go to one place to pick up locally-produced foods and goods while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. This new system was up and running, and set a precedent for other Vermont Markets to follow.

A system such as the one set up by the Bennington Market is no different than what is happening at many local restaurants, liquor stores, and also the Big Box Stores. So, why Farmers Markets? Here is a list of consequences and issues that come with declaring Farmers Markets “Non-Essential” businesses:

  1. Local farmers and value-added producers depend on the Farmers Markets to sell their goods and earn an income. They now can only sell directly from the farm, losing much of their income.
  2. Many families depend on local food and products. It is now significantly more difficult to access locally-produced goods.
  3. Eating local and supporting local producers decreases use of fossil fuels. An apple from Vermont requires far less fuel to deliver from farm to plate than an apple from Washington State or California. Closing Farmers Markets means the more easily accessed apple now comes from potentially thousands of miles away.
  4. Customers who choose to support locally produced food lower their fossil fuel consumption and also increase social distancing when they can go to ONE CENTRAL LOCATION to pick up a wide variety of goods. Eliminating the local market forces customers to have to travel to each individual producer/farm if they want to continue eating and supporting local food and goods.
  5. Closing Farmers Markets pushes money and business to the Big Box stores which are filled with produce and goods produced in other States (or nations) and on factory farms.
  6. In a time when everyone is concerned about health and disease prevention, closing Farmers Markets makes it more difficult to access nutrient dense and health-giving food.
  7. Bankrupting small Vermont farms gives power and money to Out-Of-State Corporate Agriculture and weakens the Vermont economy. This increases our citizens’ dependence on welfare and other social services. More dependence on these services mean higher taxes for Vermonters.

We need to declare very loudly to our representatives in government: Vermont Farmers Markets are ESSENTIAL, especially in this time. COVID-19 has not lessened the importance of these wonderful organizations that promote and support our local producers. On the contrary, Vermonters have an increased appreciation of just how ESSENTIAL they are.

Governor Scott: open up our markets again, and let them continue to provide their most necessary service to our families and communities. Farmers Markets are foundational to healthy and robust communities. Let’s not fail our hard-working and dedicated Vermont farmers and the Vermonters who depend on them.