Farmers Market to abide by safety guidelines

By JENNIFER COHRON
Posted 4/9/20

Strawberries returned to the Walker County Farmers Market this week, a small sign of normalcy in what is sure to be an unusual season for farmers and customers.

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Farmers Market to abide by safety guidelines

Posted

Strawberries returned to the Walker County Farmers Market this week, a small sign of normalcy in what is sure to be an unusual season for farmers and customers.

The Alabama Farmers Market Authority has issued several pages of guidelines from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries that will be followed to ensure the health and safety of all, according to local farmer Jeremy Gray, who manages operations at the farmers market.

“We’re just going to have to do things differently. In the past, there’s usually a bit of a social element to market days. People come up there and sit and socialize. We just can’t do that right now,” Gray said.

Vendors and customers will be required to observe social distancing, and signs will be placed around the market to remind customers to stay at least an arm’s length away from others. Contact such as hugs and handshakes will not be allowed.

Customers will also be discouraged from handling the produce and will be asked to place payments on the table rather than handing it to vendors directly.

Market staff will be wearing gloves and washing and sanitizing their hands frequently. Customers will also be encouraged to bring their own hand sanitizer with them.

Like grocery stores, farms and farmers markets are classified as essential businesses and critical infrastructure, allowing them to continue to operate under the current stay-at-home order.

While opening day at the market has officially been scheduled for May 16, some farmers have already begun selling seedlings. The first strawberries arrived this week.

Gray said his own farm is about a week away from having strawberries. Other farmers have been harvesting strawberries but have sold out before making it to the market.

“Everybody’s got such tight supplies at the grocery stores, they’ve been selling out. We’ve got farmers who have been selling out before they can get them out of the field and get them down to Jasper,” Gray said.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly created uncertainty for farmers, Gray said the weeks of rain that fell on the state before the outbreak has caused bigger problems at the moment.

“We’re behind probably two or three weeks on planting most stuff because of the weather. We’re trying to get stuff out and started, but due to the weather, we were going to be behind virus or no virus,” Gray said.

There are also questions about how much demand there will be at the market or from wholesalers. Many farmers have relationships with wholesalers in Birmingham who in turn sell the produce to individuals, grocery stores or restaurants who make the drive to Finley Avenue.

“One of the biggest problems nationally has been getting over that gap. A lot of people rely on wholesale and don’t have a retail operation. It’s hard to retool because wholesale and retail are different business models,” Gray said.

He added that most local farmers normally rely on retail to move their produce, but there is apprehension that fear of the virus will keep some regular customers away from the market.

Information about the latest happenings at the Walker County Farmers Market is available on their Facebook page. Many farmers have Facebook pages of their own.