Under Washington’s new stay at home order that attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, farmers markets are listed under “essential services” and are allowed to operate in the state. But Seattle already shut down all farmers markets on March 13, and they’ll stay closed at least until April 13 under Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s order, which banned large permitted events over public health concerns. Local officials have the authority to enact stricter measures than the state, as they deem fit, and Seattle lumps in farmers markets with permitted events such as parades, festivals, and block parties.
But there’s been pushback. Last week, the Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets organization released a petition urging city authorities to exempt farmers markets from the suspension of permitted events, and work with the group on enacting operational plans that would comply with CDC guidance on social distancing, sanitation, and employee health during the pandemic.
“Our goal is their recognition that small farms are essential to regional food security,” the group’s executive director Jennifer Antos tells Eater Seattle. “Being in open-air spaces that are very flexible, we can modify layouts to provide space to shoppers and vendors, restrict the handling of products and many vendors can accept pre-sales.”
Despite the plea, the city hasn’t budged, so far.
“Farmer’s markets, while they are a treasured resource, also attract large crowds of people who often come into close contact with each other,” a rep for mayor Durkan says, adding that the city is working with farmer’s markets to “explore options to increase food access, while ensuring the health safety of their vendors and customers consistent with public health guidance.”
The city notes eligible market vendors can apply for the Small Business Stabilization Fund, which provides direct grants to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. But that may not be adequate. Many of the vendors that sell their goods at farmers markets aren’t based in Seattle, but at farms around the state. According to Antos’s group, 80 percent or more of farmers’ household income comes from the markets, and as business owners, they are not eligible for unemployment.
“There is currently no financial support directed at the small family farms who are affected by this closure, and we need it to stabilize some of these businesses,” says Antos.
She also cautions it won’t be business as usual if and when the markets open in Seattle later this spring.
“Markets are typically great social spaces, but they can’t be right now. We have to all do our part to slow the spread of the virus, which means pre-ordering from your farmer, doing your shopping quickly, and practicing six feet of distancing at all times.”