Local, fresh, nutritious food access is more important now than ever. For many people, farmers markets are their primary means to access healthy food and build immunity against infectious disease. This includes many low-income Virginians, including SNAP recipients, who also rely on farmers markets to access nutritious food and produce. Farmers markets are essential to community food security, and shopping for food at farmers markets continues to be a safe activity. We must protect the livelihoods of Virginia farmers and the availability of fresh, local food for consumers by re-classifying farmers markets as grocery stores, not as restaurants, thus making farmers markets essential businesses that must remain open.
Farmers Markets are open air and booths can be spread out to support social distancing, compared to indoor grocery stores where aisle width cannot be changed. Market managers can enforce the 6’ distancing of customers and allow a certain number of people to shop at one time. Compared to most grocery stores, farmers market produce has a much shorter supply chain and minimal handling from field to market, and the outdoor, open-air setting of farmers markets offers optimal ventilation and sunlight for shopping in an unconfined space. With new regulations that have recently been put in place, customers at farmers markets have much less touch contact with food products than at grocery stores. Lastly, farmers market booths are non-permanent, so products are not constantly being touched 7 days/week and they are wiped down regularly by vendors. The US Department of Health and Human Services defines “food supply” as critical infrastructure and the USDA has classified farmers markets as “essential”.
We hope the Commonwealth of Virginia can do everything possible to show its support for farmers markets, which provide direct access to healthy, nutritious foods for our citizens, while also supporting the livelihoods of local farmers, food makers, and chefs. The surrounding states of Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky have all prioritized their farmers and farmers markets by classifying them as essential. Please, I’m asking you today, to re-classify farmers markets as essential businesses along with grocery stores and food banks.