Recommendations for Farmers Markets on how to Interpret Universal Guidance from the VTFMA

As of April 9, Farmers’ Markets must follow the universal guidance issued for Group A Sectors as part of the Vermont Forward plan, which can be accessed here:  https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/vermont-forward/business-operations#universal-guidance

Briefly, the guidance requires people to:

  1. Stay home if sick;
  2. Wear a mask or face covering;
  3. Ensure six-foot spaces and uncrowded places;
  4. Practice good hygiene;
  5. Think before you travel.

This guidance will expire on July 4, unless circumstances change in our state. Outdoor summer markets will begin to open in Vermont in May. Markets must begin planning immediately for the first part of the season, but will also want to give thought to the period after July 4. 

Last summer, Vermont Farmers’ Markets were seen as a safer alternative to traditional groceries and supermarkets. We worked hard to implement procedures that would create a safe environment for both our vendors and our customers. Necessarily, this required de-emphasizing the role of markets as a community gathering place, and focusing squarely on our role in the distribution of safe, local food.

For one more year, it is important that we maintain this focus. The Universal Guidance provides a far more flexible set of guidelines for markets. Many of the practices and procedures mandated during the 2020 season are no longer explicitly required. As market managers and boards think through their plans for the season, health and safety must continue to be at the forefront. 

It is imperative that market organizers understand that they are responsible for articulating guidelines for their markets that are consistent with the Universal Guidance. Preferably, markets will have a set of written guidelines, with a process in place for vendor sign-off.

The Board of Directors of the Vermont Farmers Market Association offers the following suggestions to help markets evaluate what procedures to put in place, at least for the early part of the season, while the Universal Guidance is in effect.

The Board acknowledges that the Vermont Farmers Market Association is not a regulatory body. Rather, it is a member organization comprising a community of farmers market professionals seeking to advance and promote farmers markets as places for Vermont farmers and other local producers to connect with customers wishing to purchase food and other goods from local producers. 

Considerations in Implementing Universal Guidance

Each market is unique, considering different factors such as physical space, layout, customer flow, and of course the vendor community. How we ensure compliance with the Universal Guidance is up to us. The following is a guide to help markets think through decisions they must make in anticipation of the upcoming summer season.

  1. Stay home if sick: markets should continue to have policies in place that require vendors to stay home if sick, and have signage in place that instruct customers who feel ill to stay away from the market.
  2. Wear a mask or face covering: while the state’s mask mandate is in place, markets should continue to require that vendors and customers wear a mask or other face covering. For any individual who indicates that he or she cannot wear a mask or face covering, markets should follow ADA requirements for documenting and offering reasonable.accommodations as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. For more information, watch the recorded session from the 2021 Vermont Farmers Market Conference. If Governor Scott lifts the mask mandate after July 4, markets should strongly consider continuing a mask mandate for vendors. Markets have the prerogative to continue to require masks or face coverings for customers as well.
  3. Ensure six-foot spaces and uncrowded places: for markets, meeting this requirement means thinking through distancing from customer to customer, vendor to vendor, and vendor to customer. Considerations:
    1. Does your physical set-up make implementation of one-way traffic advisable?
    2. Do you have high traffic vendors who need to be situated so that customers can be comfortable distanced without interfering with through-traffic?
    3. What distance between tents/booths is necessary to ensure that vendors are six feet apart? 
    4. Is it necessary to require special booth set-ups that ensure distance between vendors and other vendors and customers?
    5. What about financial transactions? Do vendors need to continue to implement practices so that they can accept payment without close proximity to the customer? How does market currency fit into this equation? (Note: markets that accept EBT must continue to accommodate those customers.)
    6. Can the market safely return to customers picking out their own produce or other products while maintaining safe distancing? Do your vendors have a preference? Is it acceptable for this to be left to vendor discretion?
    7. Can sampling be allowed while continuing to comply with mask and distancing requirements? If so, how? For example, samples packaged “to go” could bridge the gap.
    8. Can food consumption on site be allowed while continuing to comply with mask and distancing requirements? If so, how? Note that if markets have designated areas for food consumption, then they may be taking on responsibilities for policing distance requirements, sanitizing tables, etc. And, they may be crossing into the rules for food establishments.
    9. Can music or other special events be allowed while continuing to comply with mask and distancing requirements? If so, how? How does the incorporation of such activities comport with the perception of markets as sources of food vs. community gatherings? Note that singing has been demonstrated to be a very effective way to transmit the coronavirus, so markets should be particularly cautious if musicians are singers.
    10. Market entrances: Is it necessary or desirable to continue to have a single market entrance in order to control traffic, communicate market rules, etc.
  4. Practice good hygiene
    • Markets should continue to make hand sanitizer available to entering and exiting customers.
    • Markets should continue to require vendors to practice good hygiene for themselves and in their booths. If tablecloths are used, they should be wipeable. Even though emerging research has established that transmission of the coronavirus through surfaces is highly unlikely, markets will still want to be perceived as practicing good hygiene.
    • If the market provides for bathrooms and/or portable bathrooms, good sanitization should continue to be practiced.

 

Conclusion

While the current Universal Guidelines are much less restrictive than those requirements that were imposed on markets last season, we urge market organizers to proceed with caution. Markets were, for the most part, appreciated and rewarded by customers for being safer than grocery stores in the past year. It is to our benefit that while things may slowly be returning to a more normal mode of operation, we continue to demonstrate that the safety of all in our market communities is still at the forefront of our decisions. 

If you have questions, please contact Andrew Graham at [email protected]