How to Support Farmers and Safely Shop at Farmers’ Markets

A farmers' market expert shares 12 tips to sustain farmers, access fresh, healthy food, and avoid crowds at supermarkets.



April 15, 2020 update: The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) has launched a new Farmers’ Market Box to help support the farmers at their market while also ensuring that shoppers can safely get the produce they need.

During shelter-in-place, farmers’ markets remain open as an essential service, providing a vital source of fresh fruits and vegetables and food staples for our communities in a spacious, open-air setting. But our community and our farmers’ markets could be jeopardized if we don’t each do our part to stay safe during this public healthy crisis.

In good times, farmers’ markets have been places to gather and converse, however, now is the time to follow public health and safety advisories and resist the urge to linger and socialize. We all have a critical role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

We have been operating San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market since 1999, and we have developed these tips to help you plan your trip to any farmers’ market, in order to protect you, market vendors, and to keep farmers’ markets open and safe. Thank you for protecting yourself and your community, while staying well fed and supporting local farmers and producers who work hard to feed us!

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buying produce at a safe social distance

1. Be healthy and safe. Do not visit a farmers’ market if you are sick or a member of a high-risk group. If possible, please send a family member or friend to shop for you, or seek out pickup and delivery options. Follow these tips from the CDC for how to protect yourself.

bags of beans at the market

2. Have a game plan. Come prepared with your shopping list in hand. Knowing what you need to buy will help you get in in and get out of the market quickly, and help our farmers keep lines moving smoothly. To help you get started, check out our list of pantry items and immune-boosting foods you can buy at the farmers’ market.

buying pre-bagged groceries at the farmers market

3. Shop quickly and efficiently. Show up early to avoid the crowds, and try to limit your visit to 30 minutes or less. Many farmers will have items prebagged for you to grab and go, and some prepared food vendors are packaging all hot foods to go for you to enjoy at home.

sign at the farmers market telling people to stay six feet apart

4. Shop solo and don’t crowd! We recommend sending one family or household member to shop if possible. Always maintain a social distance of six feet while shopping and waiting in line at the farmers’ market. (Household members can stand closer together; parents should always keep their children close.) Please help support this by minding signage and visual cues for lines. If you see a friend, resist the urge to chat, and instead catch up by phone or video-chat later⁠—possibly while sharing a home-cooked meal, remotely!

waiitng in a well-spaced queue at the farmers market

5. Mind the queue. Always maintain a social distance of six feet while shopping and waiting in line at the farmers market. Please help us by following signage and visual cues for lines.

purchasing vegetables while wearing masks and gloves

6. Let farmers serve you—no self-serve or sampling! Please don’t touch any items you haven’t bought. Don’t forget to wash your produce thoroughly when you get home.

a handwashing station at the farmers market

7. Wash your hands. Wash up before and after coming to the market. Make use of any handwashing stations at the farmers’ market. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly for 20 seconds, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you are not able to wash your hands, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

cash vs. electronic payment options at the farmers market

8. Minimize money handling. When possible, use exact change, credit card, or contactless payments. See if your market accepts mobile wallets and tap-to-pay credit cards.

a close up picture of a veggie box csa

9. If possible, preorder for pickup or delivery. If you’re not able to come to market, some markets allow you to order veggie boxes, packaged products, and hot food for delivery online, while supporting your favorite local farmers and food businesses. In the San Francisco Bay-area, see a list of our vendors who offer online ordering options.

thanking a farmer at star route farms

10. Thank your farmer. These are especially challenging times for farmers, food makers, and restaurants, as they work hard on the frontlines to feed us. We must invest in and strengthen our region’s farms and food supply, especially in times of crisis.

a well distanced line at the farmers market

11. Be patient, flexible, and kind. This is a stressful time, but we’re all in this together! As always, be kind, and remember that viruses do not target by race or ethnicity. We are always stronger together in love and respect, not fear. Farmers’ markets are places of nourishment and care, and we believe in the power of community resilience to carry us through.

close up of vegetables

12. Take care of yourself and your community. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to keep our immune systems strong when we need it most! Visit the CUESA recipe archive for cooking inspiration to nourish you and your loved ones. Let us know how you are nourishing yourself.

Thank you for ensuring farmers’ markets are safe, healthy, and inclusive spaces for everyone.

This article was originally published on the CUESA blog, and is reprinted with permission.

Photos courtesy of Brie Mazurek / CUESA.

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View Comments (3)

  1. Steve
    Friday, April 3rd, 2020
    Be thankful you have a local farmers market and support now more than ever. Where I live there are no markets for months to come.
    Shopping in open air markets is softer than being trapped inside a Walmart with way more people and a much higher risk from being indoors. Farmers markets are a saner and safer choice for food shopping. Thanks to the local farmers who help feed us.
  2. Binglo
    Friday, April 3rd, 2020
    Actually, my local farmers market is asking customers to show up later to reduce crowding because too many people like to shop early.