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Does your town have a farmers market? How is it operating amid COVID-19?
Farmers markets are a path to healthy food access. They are especially important now as the coronavirus pandemic worsens food insecurity.
Fortunately, the Farmers Market Coalition is stepping up to support farmers markets. They’re pushing for federal aid for markets, creating resources, and sharing how markets increase access to healthy, fresh produce and social connections, and engage farmers in the local economy.
“There are benefits to visiting a farmers’ market in light of coronavirus … you’re outside, there’s fresh air moving, and the supply chain is shorter,” Yvonne Michael, an epidemiologist at Drexel University, told WHYY.
For National Farmers Market Week on Aug. 2-8, 2020, we at Salud America! are showcasing the benefits of farmers markets as a way to increase access to fruits and vegetables among Latino and all people!
Farmers Markets Can Help Latinos
Latinos frequently live in food swamps.
In these swamps, Latinos have no easy access to supermarkets and farmers’ markets, while abundant access to fast food and corner stores. This results in overconsumption of unhealthy foods, according to a Salud America! research review.
The number of U.S. farmers’ markets has more than doubled in the past 20 years. It rose from 2,863 in 2000 to 8,768 in 2019, according to a USDA database.
But many of these markets are not accessible to Latinos. In fact, a San Diego State University report indicates that 44% of the city’s farmers markets are in census tracts with high levels of gentrification.
This is a big missed opportunity to improve Latino health.
Latinos report a willingness to support farmers’ markets introduced into their neighborhoods. For example, the presence of a farmer’s market was linked to greater consumption of fruits and vegetables among immigrant women in New York City.
This access is critical amid coronavirus.
“I believe people are using the markets as a way to get their fresh food and expand (their usage of) the local environment [amid coronavirus],” John Carey, manager of a Houston-area farmer’s market, told the Houstonia.
Farmers Markets Adjust to Coronavirus Pandemic
Some markets closed as the pandemic struck.
But they are gradually reopening with social distancing and mask-wearing requirements.
Some markets in Missouri are seeing more customers, others less. In Tennessee, one market stopped their weekly live music and other events. But they still draw 80 vendors and 1,000 food shoppers a week.
In California, some markets moved online after seeing a dip in in-person customers. A San Francisco market is facing a $200,000 loss because of a drop in attendance by fee-paying vendors and efforts to maintain health and safety measures.
“The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare many of the structural problems of our food system, not the least of which is the vital and underappreciated work that farmers’ market operators engage in to keep farmers in business and keep people fed,” Civil Eats reports.
That is why the Farmers Market Coalition has been so busy.
The coalition helps markets stay informed and modify operations amid the pandemic. They advocate for federal aid for markets as vital components of the local food system. They orchestrate trainings to help market operators with physical redesigns, sales, and incentives.
“The impact of COVID-19 created rapid change, adaptation, and innovation in our sector and demonstrated our capacity for flexibility and resilience,” according to the coalition’s blog post on July 10, 2020. “These lessons will stay with us long into the future and will help to evolve our vision of what farmers markets can and should be.”
Civil Eats urged public and private entities to support farmers markets.
“We hope the private individuals and foundations who can will step up and donate to support the operation of their local farmers markets,” they wrote. “These community institutions have a pivotal role to play—now and in the future—and they’re much too important to lose.”
Making Farmers Markets Better
Farmers markets that enable greater purchasing power for fruits and vegetables also can increase spending on fresh produce.
In 2018, farmers markets redeemed $24 million in SNAP benefits. That means more revenue for local farmers and more fresh food access for families.
Also, 60% of farmers market customers in low-income neighborhoods say their farmers market had better prices than their grocery store.
Kaely Summers is squeezing even more benefits from farmers markets.
Summers is the manager of Adelante Mujeres’ Forest Grove Farmers Market in Oregon. But Summers saw that kids get a little bored when they came to the market with their parents.
So Summers and other market leaders teamed up to create the bilingual Market Sprouts Kid Club. The club uses fun activities to teach Latino kids and all kids about farming, fresh produce and healthy eating at the market.
“For [kids] to get engaged in eating healthier, we wanted to make sure that everything we were doing is fun,” Summers said.
How Can You Get involved?
Check this awesome map to see if there’s a farmers market near you.
Yes? Visit it. See what fruits and vegetables you can find.
No? Think about starting one in your own neighborhood.
You can be like San Antonio teacher Michelle Griego.
Griego had no farmers market in her historic neighborhood, Dignowity Hill. So she did some research, built community support, and filled out paperwork to start her own market.
“A big part of the farmers’ market is educating people who come out to our market,” she said, which is why securing demonstrations is important,” Griego said. “It’s been a journey, but it’s not over!”
We also urge you to get involved for the health of your community!
And no matter what topic you are interested in, be sure to download the Salud America! The Health Equity Report Card. The Report Card auto-generates local data with interactive maps and gauges. These can help you visualize inequities in local healthy food access compared to your state and nation.
You can email your Health Equity Report Card, share it on social media, and use it to make the case for community change to boost health equity. This is where everyone has a fair, just opportunity to live their healthiest.
Get your health equity Report Card!
Editor’s note: Main photo from CUESA: Cultivating a Healthy Food System.
Explore More:Healthy Food, Water
By The Numbers
for every Latino neighborhood, compared to 3 for every non-Latino neighborhood