Should farmers markets close during the coronavirus? Local operators are split. | Peninsula Foodist | Elena Kadvany | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

By Elena Kadvany

Should farmers markets close during the coronavirus? Local operators are split.

Uploaded: Mar 12, 2020

Some Peninsula farmers markets have decided to close temporarily to slow the spread of the coronavirus while others are staying open to maintain a reliable, direct-from-farms food source to local communities.

The Downtown Palo Alto Farmers' Market — which usually runs year-round, rain or shine, on Saturday mornings — is closed until further notice. The Thursday afternoon Portola Valley Farmers' Market will also close starting next Thursday, March 19, through Thursday, March 26, at a minimum. The operators of both markets made the decision to close following updated guidance from public health officials urging social distancing and cancellation of large events.

Jose Gallardo of Gallardo's Organic Farm sells customers strawberries at the Portola Valley Farmers' Market in 2018. The Thursday market will close temporarily to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Photo by Veronica Weber.

The guidance is "meant to slow the spread of the virus in our community, reduce the number of people infected, and protect those who are most vulnerable to severe illness," said Nile Estep, founder of Good Roots Events and Farmers Markets, which operates the Portola Valley market. "We understand the new guidance can have tremendous impact on the lives of people in our community. However, this is a critical moment in the growing occurrence of COVID-19 when such measures can potentially slow the spread of the disease.

"The health and safety of our market vendors and the community is our first priority," he said.

Robert McDiarmid, president of the volunteer-run Downtown Palo Alto Farmers Market, said closing "was a difficult decision, as we understand the impact on our customers and our growers." He hopes to reopen the market as soon as possible.

Two Bay Area-wide market operators, however, the Urban Village Farmers Market Association and California Farmers' Markets Association, are keeping their nearly 30 locations open, including the California Avenue farmers market in Palo Alto and the Mountain View, Los Altos (which opens for the season in May) and Los Gatos markets.

"The answer is no, we're not closing," California Farmers' Market Association Executive Director Gail Hayden said on Thursday. "People have to get food."

All of California Farmers' Market Association's Bay Area locations will remain open. Photo by Michelle Le.

The downtown Menlo Park farmers market is remaining open for now, but operator Lori Hennings said will "play it by ear" after running this coming Sunday. The vendors will no longer be offering samples.

Hayden and the Urban Village Farmers Market Association stressed that farmers markets remain essential spaces for people to get fresh food that has been handled by fewer people than what's available at commercial grocery stores.

"The benefits greatly outweigh any drawbacks," Urban Village Farmers Market Association wrote in a March 11 statement.

Among the organization’s reasons for keeping markets open at this time are: closing farmers markets could overburden grocery stores, which are enclosed spaces; markets are open to air and direct sunlight, which are "inhospitable" to viruses; operating for a limited number of hours once a week makes it manageable to maintain cleanliness; and the produce is traveling a short distance from farm to customer.

"Most farmers market items are harvested and packed by only a few people within 100 miles or less," the Urban Village Farmer Market Association said. "Brick and mortar grocery stores often import internationally, tend to have a multitude of persons and places involved in product handling, packaging, wide distribution networks of travel, multiple transit points in international and regional hubs."

Both operators are taking precautions at its markets, including not allowing food samples, limiting tables and chairs to reduce crowds, offering hand sanitizer at information booths, spreading vendors out to allow for social distancing and frequently cleaning all vendor surfaces before, during and after markets. Urban Village Farmers’ Markets vendors will not be allowed to operate until a required hand-wash station is set up and they properly wash their hands. The coronavirus is not believed to be spread through food; the market operators are reminding customers to wash fruit and produce as they normally would.

They are urging both vendors and customers not to come to markets if they have a fever or any respiratory symptoms. Urban Village Farmers Market has enacted a "no-penalty clause" for vendors who have to cancel due to illness concerns.