Delaware farmers’ markets can open Friday with limits

There will be a farmers’ market season this year in Delaware after all.

In collaboration with the statewide Delaware Farmers’ Market Coalition, Delaware’s Department of Agriculture on Monday announced strict protocols that will allow farmers’ markets to safely begin opening, potentially as early as Friday.

“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,” Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse said in a statement.

“We know a lot more about COVID-19 now and the steps we all need to take to prevent the spread of this disease. 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.”

DDA protocols will be in place until further notice. Protocols are solely intended to allow farmers to sell produce, specialty crops and other value-added food items that have been directly grown or raised on a farm or prepared in a permitted on-farm kitchen or cottage-food kitchen.

Justin Grimminger, of Ficner Farm, a third-generation family operation near Dover, says he was hearing from potential marketgoers on Monday.

“We, of course, we are definitely very excited. I have been getting several phone calls here recently. It is definitely welcome news to us,” said Mr. Grimminger. “We’re happy that Secretary Scuse and Gov. Carney realize that farmers markets are a very important part to our food distribution chain here in Delaware, and that local, small family farms are very important.”

“We have a small farm stand on the farm, but four days a week we are down the road at farmers’ markets. They are definitely very important to us,” said Mr. Grimminger. “We are a completely 100 percent retail farm. We don’t do any wholesale to different restaurants or people that are selling it. So, we are very dependent upon being able to take our produce down to the customers and get it out to them at the farmers’ markets.”

Last week, as Gov. Carney’s COVID-19 State of Emergency approached the two-month juncture, Delaware farmers’ markets were in limbo as markets were deemed non-essential.

Protocols set

Now with strict protocols, they can prepare to open.

To create a safer environment for all involved, farmers’ markets will no longer be considered a social venue. This means there will be:

• no social gatherings;

• no entertainment shows 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 for service animals.

“That was the problem. I think the Department of Ag and the governor were looking at them as ‘events,’” said Lenore Brady, co-owner of Stag Run Farm near Georgetown. “We know they are going to have to go back to what they were originally – and that’s farmers’ markets, to get food from the local farmers to the consumer. Once again, direct to consumer. That is what my business model is on my farm.”

“It was in the past more of a gathering and an event, whereas the future is going to be come shop and leave. It is going to be what it was originally put together for, and that’s for farmers to sell their produce direct to consumer. And I am glad it’s going back to that,” Ms. Brady said.

Henry Bennett of Bennett Orchards in Frankford agreed.

“A lot of markets evolved into a community gathering place, but it’s no different than running into your neighbor at the grocery store,” he said.

“A lot of those things were to bring in more customers to the market. Now, you’re going to say briefly a few words to them, and keep going, where before all of this started, you might have had a 10-minute conversation. We’re seeing this all across society that we’re kind of going back to the basics.”

Farmers’ markets may operate as a walk-through market or a drive-through market.

All customers will be required to wear face coverings. Any customer not wearing a face covering will be denied entrance.

A maximum of two people per household will be allowed to enter the market to shop. Upon arrival, customers will check in at the entrance with market staff. If the market is at capacity, the customer will be given instructions on how they will be notified when they can enter to shop.

Progress through the farmers’ market will be in one direction only. All market attendees will be required to enter through a specific entrance and will leave at a designated exit. There will be no doubling back to shop at a vendor.

Market staff, vendors and customers must practice social distance, staying six feet from all others while inside the market area. In order to reduce shopping time, vendors will not have their product available where people can touch or handle product. Customers must request items that they want to purchase, and the farmer will package for purchase.

“We are just ecstatic. This is a lifeline to our farm right now. I am in the process of trying to call in workers to plant. We are at the 11th hour. And they came through,” said Ms. Brady.

“All the market managers for the farmers’ markets did a great job with putting together proposed options for us to open. I think the state looked at that and I think they found it to be something that could be done to help the farmers and the community. All the market managers are getting together right now and discussing the protocol and looking at the guidelines. And they will implement it. It is working in Maryland and it will work here.”

Last week, with Delaware’s farmers’ market uncertain, Ms. Brady said there was the possibility Stag Run Farm would forego further planting this year.

“I didn’t want to not plant, and we were leaning towards not planting because of losing that direct to consumer market,” said Ms. Brad. “Now that he has deemed it as an essential business … we will proceed with planting everything we can for this season. And it is in time. I can call the guys in, and we can start planting the tomatoes.”

Via its Facebook site, Rehoboth Beach Farmers’ Market was hopeful for a 2020 opening on Tuesday, May 19.

For information on market openings, visit the Department of Agriculture’s Buy Local Delaware Farmer’s Market guide online. Information and updates may also available on individual market Facebook pages and websites.

Critical link

Local farms provide a critical link in the food chain, Mr. Bennett emphasized.

“Farmers’ markets are a place to get food directly from the person who grew it. At a time like this I think we need that most and it’s going to reconnect people to their local food supply,” Mr. Bennett said.

“Our small, local stable farms aren’t subject to gaps in the supply chain like corporate agriculture. We’re not subject to a lot of these issues that are causing critical shortages across the country. So, these farms, now more than ever, are going to feed their communities during a time of need.”

Public outcry blossomed over the potential delay or entire loss of this year’s farmers’ markets in Delaware.

“From the bottom of our hearts here at Stag Run Farm, thank you to the public. The public spoke. The government listened. It was unbelievable, the outcry. They listened to their constituents,” said Ms. Brady. “We need to thank those people. They took their time to write both on Facebook and social media. I had numerous phone calls, emails to my farm, ‘How can we help?’” It was a great outcry by the public, and it worked.”

Mr. Bennett said this is a weight off his mind.

“We want to thank everyone who wrote letters, contacted local and state officials supporting the reopening of the farmers’ markets,” said Mr. Bennett. “We’d like to thank the Department of Agriculture and the Governor for working swiftly to get these farmers’ markets back open at a time where they are great way to feed communities in need.”

“We’re excited to be able to focus our efforts now on farming and getting our food safely and directly from our farm right to local communities,” Mr. Bennett added. “I’m going to sleep probably the best tonight than I have in the past 10 days or two weeks.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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