Under strict COVID-19 state-of-emergency restrictions, local farmers markets are permitted to reopen, starting Friday, May 15.
First considered nonessential events, markets were prohibited from opening until Delaware Department of Agriculture staff approved a safety plan submitted by Delaware Farmers Market Coalition, presented to Secretary Michael Scuse May 7. By now, nearly all Cape Region markets normally would be open.
“This is a critical date because we know that a large majority of local specialty crops that are grown in Delaware start to arrive at the farmers markets beginning the last two weeks of May and really pick up in June,” said Department of Agriculture chief of community relations Stacey Hoffman.
Individual farmers markets may choose to implement more specific and stringent protocols, but they must at a minimum follow the issued protocols in order to operate and remain open.
• No social gatherings, no entertainment or activities, no food trucks or prepared food for consumption on site, no on-site food preparation or sampling, no demonstrations and no pets allowed, except service animals.
• All customers will be required to wear face coverings, or they will be denied entrance. A maximum of two people per household will be allowed to enter. Customers will check in at the entrance with market staff. If the market is at capacity, customers will be given instructions when they can enter.
• Progress through markets will be in one direction. All market attendees will be required to enter through a specific entrance and leave out a designated exit; there will be no doubling back to shop.
• To reduce shopping time, vendors will not display produce so people can touch or handle it. Customers will request items they want to purchase, and the farmer will then package those items for purchase.
• The protocols will be in place until further notice, and are intended to allow farmers to sell produce, specialty crops and other value-added food items that have been grown or raised on a farm or prepared in a permitted on-farm kitchen or cottage-food kitchen.
More information regarding the protocol for opening Delaware farmers markets can be found at www.de.gov/buylocal.
“We want to make sure that opening the farmers markets in Delaware is done in a way that maximizes the safety of market staff, family farmers and the customers who are looking to purchase produce, specialty crops, and other value-added food items,” Scuse said. “Farmers markets will not be the same social experience as they were prior to COVID-19, but we hope that Delawareans will utilize the markets as a place to purchase locally produced food.”
Hoffman said the department raised concerns because markets are different from grocery stores. In grocery stores, customers enter the store at various times and move around the store individually, subject to strict social-distancing guidelines set by health officials, and they leave as soon as their shopping is completed, she said.
“A farmers market, in contrast, is by design a communal experience, one for which a large group of individuals come together at the same time in the same place for the same purpose,” she said.
Lewes Mayor Ted Becker said the Historic Lewes Farmers Market is scheduled to open Saturday, May 23. As of presstime May 11, it was not clear when other local markets would open. See an update at capegazette.com and in the Friday, May 15 edition.