“What is happening with Farmers’ Markets in the Cariboo this COVID-19 year?”
The short answer is: “Markets are continuing on!” but the reality is a little more complex than that.
Four Cariboo farmers’ markets—Williams Lake, McLeese Lake, South Cariboo (100 Mile House), and Harvest (Quesnel)—are members of the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) and as such are under the guidance and regulation of this provincial organization. The BCAFM has worked closely with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control in developing guidelines for the safe operation of farmers’ markets throughout the province. Here are the considerations that markets are operating under this year:
- As food outlets, farmers’ markets are an essential service and are a key component in maintaining and strengthening local food security
- Only food and food-producing items (for example, vegetable starts and culinary herb plants) may be offered at farmers’ markets, though this ruling may change to allow other types of products as the season progresses
No vendor or customer may attend while ill or if they have been in recent contact (14 days) with anyone who is a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case
- Markets must allow space for recommended physical distancing to take place between all participants
- Hand cleaning stations must be available
- Customers may not handle merchandise
- No sampling of items, no eating or drinking in the market area, and all ready-to-eat foods and beverages must be packaged for take-away
- Frequent-touch surfaces are cleaned as needed and vendors must provide clean new wrappings or bags for all food products
- No live music or other activities that might encourage assembly or excessive mingling
- Customers are asked to attend with as few family members as possible and to move through the market as quickly as is practical: “Shop, don’t stop!” being a suggested slogan this season
Market organizers in our sister communities have been networking constantly and reports are identical—people appreciate the opportunity to acquire local food in a safe, outdoor setting. Vendors are already reporting record sales and anticipate a strong season ahead.
Initially artisan and craft vendors were excluded from the new COVID market regulations, but as of June 5, we recieved provincial permission to begin adding some back. Fortunately, the BCAFM organized an “online market” sales platform through Canadian company Local Line earlier in the market season, which is open to all types of vendors. Weblinks may be found on the various market websites and Facebook pages. Line-ups will be expanding as more vendors get their virtual booths up and running—it’s a good idea to check back often. Customers can pre-order and make various contact-free payment and delivery arrangements with vendors.
Another thing we’re missing is live entertainment. 2020 was shaping up to be a stellar year for local and visiting musician and buskers. It has been disappointing to all concerned to have to postpone all those market gigs, but everyone understands the reason for the restriction, which is to prevent gatherings of spectators. We do anticipate enthusiastic performances when some sort of normal returns.
What we do have is an abundant array of top-quality local food items. You will find freshly harvested market garden produce, B.C. orchard fruit in season, local meat products, farm eggs, all sorts of canning, pickles, and preserves, teas, coffees, breads, sweet and savory baking, prepared frozen meals, ready-to-eat takeout food, and more.
Our farmers’ markets continue to epitomize the “Shop Local” theme. Customer dollars stay in our local communities and support other local businesses, while keeping our farmers and food producers financially viable. Good things happen when we all come together, even while staying a certain “social distance” apart!