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Farmers markets under financial strain due to COVID-19 outbreak

Posted at 8:11 AM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 19:29:12-04

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. -- Summer may not officially start for a few more weeks, but a different season is now in full swing: Farmers Market season.

“Our season is April through September,” said Tracy Richter, who oversees the Farmers Market in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Just when it was about to open this year, the coronavirus pandemic sprouted up, forcing a temporary closure and then requiring changes to comply with social distancing.

“We had them set up booths with an entrance and an exit,” Richter said. “So, only one way in, one way out. We restricted the number of shoppers they could have in those booths to two.”

Normally, there would be 45 vendors at the farmers market, but they had to reduce that number down to 10 because of the coronavirus. They are slowly trying to get back to normal, though, and plan to add 10 more next week.

Richter is lucky – the local municipality funds this market. For other market operators around the country, however, the financial picture is much more dire.

“For them, this is a very challenging situation,” said Ben Feldman of the Farmers Market Coalition.

He said coronavirus relief funds have bypassed these nonprofit markets, at a time when operators are having to limit the number of vendors and shoppers, as well as spend additional money on virus-related expenses, like personal protective equipment.

“Unfortunately, much of the relief to date has left farmers markets out of the equation, even as there have been direct payments for many businesses,” Feldman said.

Now, some are in danger of closing – nearly 20-percent of those recently surveyed in California alone. Feldman said the next coronavirus stimulus bill needs to include these markets, which are often a crucial food source and livelihood.

“If these farmers markets aren’t able to remain in business, then farmers and consumers are the ones who lose here - because farmers lose their livelihood, consumers lose their access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said.

Back in South Carolina, Tracy Richter is focused on getting the market through the reality of now and looking forward to later.

“Hopefully by next April,” she said, “everything will be more back to normal.”