Farmers Markets Respond to COVID-19 — Best Practices, Examples, and Resources

      Posted On: March 18, 2020

As concerns about the spread of COVID-19 grow, farmers market operators are wondering how best to respond. Markets are grappling with their role as public gatherings that are vital to food access for consumers and the livelihoods of farmers.

In response, market operators are developing communications, preparing contingency plans, and in some regions, beginning to modify operations and considering closures. To offer a point of reference for our members, we have compiled information and advice from farmers markets, state associations, health departments and the Centers for Disease Control. Given the hyper-local nature of farmers markets, the needs of one community may be vastly different from that of another. We recommend keeping up to date on your community’s status through your local public health departments. The actions that you take should be predicated on the situation locally.

 We’ve collected quotes, pictures, links, and best practices from market organizations around the country and how they are mitigating exposure while still providing healthy food to residents. Visit our Daily Updates and Announcements page for up to date responses from state ag departments and news. 

WEBINAR: Farmers Markets Physical Redesign for COVID-19 Mitigation

Please contact FMC to share any images, links, or information that we can add to this post.

Stay Informed

Farmers market operators should consult their local health departments for up to date details in their community. Read the updates and recommendations available on their website and sign up for any alerts being offered by local or county-level health officials. The CDC has issued interim guidance for large public gatherings with useful steps. Highlights include:

    • Establish relationships with key community partners and stakeholders such as local health departments and collaborate with them on broader planning efforts.
    • Promote the daily practice of everyday preventive actions. Use health messages and materials developed by credible public health sources such as your local public health department or CDC to encourage your event staff and participants to practice good personal health habits.
    • Provide prevention supplies at your events.Plan to have extra supplies on hand for event staff and participants, including sinks with soap, hand sanitizers, tissues.
    • Discourage people who are sick from attending.
    • Identify actions to take if you need to postpone or cancel.
    • Some cities and states have declared states of emergency in response to COVID-19. While a state of emergency sounds concerning, it is primarily a procedural step that allows state and local health officials to access additional resources for identifying, treating and preventing the spread of the disease.

Find daily updates about COVID-19’s effect on the farmers market sector in this post.



Market Operations

Market leaders and stakeholders should discuss options like the ones below to mitigate exposure and outbreak risks. It might not be necessary for your market to take all of these steps immediately, but you should be determining at what point your market will begin to implement operational changes.

  • Consider limiting demos and samples to decrease opportunities for cross-contamination
  • Suspend penalties for last-minute vendor cancellations
  • Invite local health departments to attend market days for educational opportunities.
  • Follow simple CDC rules for washing hands and not touching faces. Add additional handwashing facilities for vendors and customers. Have signs posted as a reminder.
  • Make sanitary gloves required for market staff who handle money, tokens, or vouchers and remind staff about handwashing procedures. Masks are not recommended for healthy adults unless they are caring for someone with COVID-19, market staff may ask about their use. Referring staff to information from trusted sources on mask usage may help reassure them.
  • If it seems right to stay open in your area, being really proactive on social media, with signs at the market, etc. about what you ARE doing.
  • Create an outline to show what 6-foot social distancing space is.
  • Redesign layout to increase social space: i.e. “no squares within square layout”, even an “L” shape or a single row, rather than parallel rows.
  • Move the welcome booth to front; add fences and ropes with signs that state you are allowing 50 or fewer people in at any one time. 
  • For markets that are required to close, consider temporarily redesigning market locations to allow for pre-ordered items to be picked up at the usual market times or other alternative distribution methods.




Farmers Markets Physical Redesign for COVID-19 Mitigation
Recorded on Monday, April 6th, 2020

As always, farmers market operators are among those leading for how local food is meeting this historic moment including “drive-thru” models, delayed entry, pre-bagged goods. new layouts and more. For this webinar, market operators shared how they actually implemented a new COVID-19 practice, and ONLY covered the physical redesign of market spaces. It did not cover online platforms that some market leaders are using to build new, off-site purchasing systems; that topic will be covered in future webinars.


Darlene Wolnik
Training and Technical Assistance Director
Farmers Market Coalition

Ben Feldman
Executive Director
Farmers Market Coalition

David Kotsonas
Director of Operations for the St Paul Growers Association and St Paul Farmers Market, St. Paul, MN

Martha Archer
Executive Director of Mill City Farmers Market Minneapolis, MN

Leigh Sloss-Corra
Market at Pepper Place,  Birmingham, AL

Jess Joyce
Market Manager of Rochester Farmers Markets,  Rochester, MN

Christie Welch
Ohio State University Direct Marketing Specialist, OH

Market operators should also fill out the survey with questions and comments about market redesign during the COVID-19 mitigation.

OSU webinar on Drive-thru Farmers Market model in Ohio and NV
Recorded on Tuesday, March 31st, 2020
Related resources


Photos of new procedures at markets:


Market maps/layouts:

New layout for Holly Springs Farmers Market – Holly Springs, NC


Communications with vendors

  • Remind vendors of sanitary methods for handling money and food, and sampling. The FMC resource library has examples including the one from the Marin Farmers Market Association
  • Growing For Market’s latest issue has Covid-19 coverage on how farmers can safeguard themselves. The cover story is available without a subscription.
  • Communicate about changes to market procedures. Consider setting up a phone or text tree to get information out as quickly as possible to all vendors.
  • Plan with vendors how the market will determine if it is appropriate to close and any alternative sales method that may be available. Share planned closure communication strategy and channels in advance. 
  • Prepare vendors for the possibility of smaller crowds at market.

Example Vendor Guidelines:

  • No Samples
  • No exposed food; everything needs to be covered or packaged
  • No items on tables that are out of reach of vendors to reduce customers from touching products.
  • Set up tables with you and your registers at the front of your space, then have food/products behind you. The point is to keep people from touching any products, and the only way to do that successfully is to have zero product upfront and in customers’ reach. Ask customers to tell you what they want, and you get the products for them.
  • Set all products on tables rather than in crates or boxes.
  • Put less out, restock more. (Put signs up saying there is more in back.)
  • Minimize cash transactions
  • Wipe down card readers between transactions.
  • Create a 3-foot barrier between your tables and customer lines. 
  • Implement sneeze guards or ropes for all tables.
  • Chalkboard product lists are strongly encouraged so that customers know what you have – since they won’t see your product spread as they normally would.
  • Wash hands all the time.


Marin Farmers Market Handwashing and Sampling Requirements

Agricultural Institute of Marin Covid-19 Guidance Videos:

Booth Setup

Shoppers at the Market


Communications with customers/media/the public

Farmers market operators and supporters should make the case for markets to remain open wherever possible. Farmers markets are essential to the livelihood of farmers and food access, not just a social gathering. While markets may need to close in extreme circumstances such closures could be disastrous for both farmers and the shoppers who rely on the market. 

Example Communications with Customers:

California Alliance of Farmers Markets Letter to Secretary Ross

Colorado Farmers Market Association Statement

Fresh Farm email to Customers

GrowNYC Blog Statement 

Heart of the City Farmers Market Customer Statement

Keeping Hollywood Farmers Market safe and healthy

New Orleans market email

What’s Different at Markets

We are taking safety precautions at markets that are much more stringent than any of our staff has seen at local grocery stores. Not only do markets not have conveyor belts or public surfaces similar to grocery stores, but there’s shoulder room and limited physical interaction with products, not to mention plenty of fresh air. For the time being, we’ll be eliminating beverage service at the welcome tent and also not setting up public seating. We will be limiting the number of customers in the market at any given time (which will facilitate social distancing and expedite shopping), and changing configurations to maintain social distance – vendors will be placed further apart from one another, isles will be made wider, chalk marks on the ground will indicate a six-foot distance from vendor tables and the welcome tent table, as well as spacing for those waiting in line to enter. While we normally value community, now is time to stock up on healthful food and head home

Pleasantville Farmers Market Public Statement

Pleasantville Farmers Market Statement to Vendors

RAFI-USA response

Rogue Valley Farmers Market Facebook Post


Communications within the industry

  • We encourage markets to support and update each other by sharing resources, ideas, and examples of communications via the FMC listserv 


More Resources:

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Get Your Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events Ready for Coronavirus Disease 2019

Handwashing Guidelines