University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture held a local foods webinar on Monday to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on Arkansas farmers.
When Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the social distancing guidelines, fewer vendors were able to be present and those that were spread out more. The markets have also limited the number of customers and discouraged socializing.
The current limitations are that only food and essential items can be sold at farmer’s markets. This means that crafts and other items that are usually sold are not available. The major exemption was homemade soap.
In Fort Smith, the market has asked patrons to socially distance as they shop. However, they are still holding the market on Garrison Avenue on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon.
Starting Saturday, Fort Smith Farmer’s Market took even further steps to spread vendors out and keep customers safe.
While they do offer drive up services, the market is still operating in an open air setting as well.
Teresa Maurer, co-manager of Fayetteville’s Farmers Market, made a presentation Monday on how they have adapted to social distancing guidelines and limitations of products.
The market also practiced extreme levels of safety by requiring vendors to wear masks and gloves while also asking customers to merely point to the produce they want to buy. Along with not allowing table cloths, these steps allow vendors to maintain a clean environment.
Another step the market has taken is that they have started taking orders online so that farmers can prepackage orders and know how much to harvest so that they do not have vast amounts of excess.
The distribution is held at the winter location for the market. Customers must preorder online before Thursday so that farmers can harvest orders on Friday in time for a Saturday pickup.
According to Maurer, their weekly capacity is 400 customers. This limit is slightly more that one-tenth of their usual number of customers which reaches approximately 3,000 per week.
Customers have signs with their names when they drive up to alert which order to get ready. Once the order is ready, workers take the order out to car while wearing masks and gloves. This process limits contact while maintaining the support of local farmers.
Most recently, the state lifted the restriction on cut flowers being sold. However, limitations remain such as no custom bouquets and customers are not allowed to touch the flowers until after they purchase them.
As restrictions continue to lift, workers and vendors are hoping that farmers markets will return to normal soon.