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Sign-on Letter: Urge Sec. Bettina Ring to equate Virginia Farmers Markets with grocery stores and other retail outlets for the purposes of COVID19 containment policies

Dear Secretary Ring,

The Virginia Farmers Market Association is a member-based Association of Farmers Markets, farmers, and affiliate partners dedicated to promoting the direct farmer-to-consumer relationship, supporting Virginia’s independent farmers, and increasing access to fresh, healthy, locally-grown food. We represent Farmers Markets throughout the State of Virginia and work to ensure local and state regulations strengthen the farmers’ market industry.

As of now, Virginia Farmers Markets in several counties have had their permits revoked and are now unable to operate. The Association and the undersigned organizations, businesses, and individuals write to request that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) take swift action by issuing a statement affirming the essential role Virginia’s Farmers Markets play for Virginia’s farmers, economy, and communities across the State, and affirmatively equate Virginia’s Farmers Markets with grocery stores and other retail outlets for the purposes of COVID19 containment policies.

The rigorous regulations that normally govern farmers markets exist to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and so farmers markets and market vendors are exceptionally well prepared to enact additional precautions. Farmers’ markets specifically have a number of additional benefits as food outlets including:

• A shortened supply chain means that food passes through far fewer hands than other retail outlets;
• Markets are open air with space to move away from people if needed;
• Market trips are brief, unlike prolonged events, and average shopper outings at the market average around
20-30 minutes;
• Farmers market booths are non-permanent, so products are not constantly being touched 7 days/week, and can be wiped down regularly by vendors.

Farmers Market operators care deeply about the communities they serve, and many have already taken proactive steps to protect market customers, farmers, and staff including proceduralizing staff hand-washing and sanitizing of market surfaces; not allowing vendors who are sick to set up and eliminating any penalty associated with missing market; and ceasing all food sampling.

We urge the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to take swift action to protect Virginia Farmers Markets, and the farmers who rely on them. The wholesale closures of hundreds of Virginia Farmers Markets for several weeks, let alone several months could result in the permanent loss of many of Virginia’s family farms, which out communities’ food supply relies on.

We appreciate your consideration and look forward to partnering with you to help Virginia farmers and farmers markets navigate this crisis.

Sincerely, the Virginia Farmers Market Association

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