FMC Helps Farmers Markets Mitigate the Impacts of COVID-19

By: Diana Broadaway       Posted On: July 10, 2020

For all of us, life right now involves a mix of uncertainty, fear, hope and determination. For nearly six months, the world has been grappling with the affects of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. While this has upended nearly every aspect of society, the impacts to our food system have been significant and far-reaching. As farmers markets serve an essential role in local and community-based food systems, the Farmers Market Coalition acted quickly in the early stages of the pandemic to begin collecting and providing market leaders with the tools and resources they would need to operate safely and efficiently during this crisis.

Infographic courtesy of Alaska Farmland Trust and Alaska Farmers Market Association

In early March, FMC started gathering resources from market and network leaders and from relevant sites and partners which included tips for staying informed at the municipal and state level; guidance regarding market operations; examples of communications with vendors, customers, media, the public, and within the farmers market sector; and regular updates with respect to policy changes and declarations. These resources were then quickly organized into two separate online blog posts, Daily Updates and Announcements and Best Practices, Examples, and Resources. These posts were purposefully designed as a reflection of FMC’s primary program initiatives: Training and Technical Assistance, Communications, and Advocacy. In the intervening months these posts have continued to evolve, with a large number of resources added over the course of April and May. Both posts have grown to include a robust set of tools available to market managers, market organizations, and state/network leaders. Many of these materials are also now housed in our Resource Library to serve as permanent emergency response resources.

In addition to building out our collection of tools/resources, our team has worked diligently to advocate for farmers markets as essential services and the operators, vendors, and farmers who make them possible as vital components of our local food systems. In mid-March, FMC issued a press release titled Family Farms and Farmers Markets Are Essential which championed the need to explicitly include these businesses in any federal stimulus relief package; proposed adding flexibility to federal programs impacting these outlets, including the FMLPP, VAPG, and GusNIP programs; and emphasized the importance of state and local government support in keeping farmers markets operational. FMC also conducted surveys of market operators sharing information about the tools they were testing in order to reopen and the economic impacts of COVID-mitigation on the market organizations themselves. Much of what we learned there and from our listservs made up the bulk of our blog piece Farmers Markets Across Nation Face Potential Economic Crisis from COVID-19, the Civil Eats op-ed We Must Save Farmers’ Markets, and our call to action asking FMC members to urge senators to include support for farmers market operators in their consideration of the HEROES Act relief legislation. Helping to shape the public policy which impacts farmers markets is a fundamental component of FMC’s leadership in this sector and in meeting both the goals of our organization and those of our members. Our Metrics guide site also remains available for market operators or any other grassroots organizer who finds metrics-style evaluation tools helpful. Here you can access free downloadable resources along with examples from markets, which is always helpful when attempting to make a policy ask. You’ll also find a link to our low-cost Metrics subscription platform which continues to gain market organization account holders who use the platform to enter, organize and report data to the community. 

Another key element to helping markets quickly navigate these changes is providing support through training and technical assistance. This includes the development of interactive, collaborative tools such as webinars exploring Farmers Market Physical Redesign and Market-Tested Sales Platforms for Shopper Pre-Orders. FMC’s staff and contractors have also provided a wealth of ideas through the Nutrition Incentive Hub. FMC is a core partner of the Hub and leads their Farm Direct Training and Technical Assistance work along with our partners Ecology Center and Michigan Farmers Market Association. That TA covers market operators, CSA and farm stand operators, state/network leaders, and nutrition incentive grantees. Along with these partners, FMC is building more sustainable programs that can assess and streamline market operations and developing training and TA resources to support market changes in both the near and long term. To further that, FMC is at work on a new resource site that will be focused on incentive and benefit programs, coming soon.

FMC has long prioritized providing support to market operators through building communities of practice within our sector. The pandemic has only intensified the need for these communities and our role in providing a platform for the sharing of information. Starting this summer, FMC will devote more staff time to developing and leading more of these specialized communities. We look forward to engaging with these groups and sharing the needs and lessons learned with the FMC team.

While the world adjusts to the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19, it is also working to redefine itself in progressive ways. Our nation feels on the cusp of a cultural shift long overdue. As people throughout the world work to dismantle the systemic barriers which perpetuate social injustice, we proudly acknowledge the role of local food systems – and farmers markets specifically – in creating positive change. Yet we know we must do more to ensure markets are truly safe, welcoming, and inclusive spaces for all who wish to participate – including farmers, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders. The impact of COVID-19 created rapid change, adaptation, and innovation in our sector and demonstrated our capacity for flexibility and resilience. These lessons will stay with us long into the future and will help to evolve our vision of what farmers markets can and should be. We expect to work directly with many of you on these issues and hope to hear from others as to how you are using these resources. Look for our National Farmers Market Week tools and messaging which will center this year around the #FarmersMarketsAreEssential hashtag and make sure to tell the story of your market community during that week. Please take care of yourselves during this chaotic time and let us know what else we can do to help your important work.