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(Photo: Lucy Wheeler)

COVID-19 VS The Farmers Markets of North County

Rain or Shine! Now COVID-19 – To Open or to Close?

By Lucy Wheeler

There are eleven farmer’s markets in North County San Diego, ranging from large, open aired markets to congested street formations.  Several of the markets opted to close until the first of April while some opted to stay open.  Everyone is watching the COVID-19 impact in the interim and during this time, all of us will be anxiously waiting to the affect these upcoming two and one-half weeks will make.

Saturday, March 14th, the Vista Farmer’s Market opted to continue to stay open.  It is the longest running Farmer’s Market in San Diego County and has always operated with the premise that they are open ‘Rain or Shine.’  The Market’s manager, Mark Wall, working with the farmers who are members of the Vista Market, made the decision using those six guidelines from the California Department of Public Health, all of which are pertinent to the Vista Farmers Market, to remain open.

Food and its security have always been scrutinized with rules and regulations about how it is distributed and where.  This precautionary approach has now been extended.

Here’s Why Vista Farmer’s Market is keeping the Market Open

Essentialness (and Food Security) “We operate under the assumption that providing food is essential.”

Food available directly from farmers who grew it has been handled by fewer  people than the estimated 17 people who have handled food through  other outlets.  We presume each added person involved adds a layer of insecurity.

In addition, we assume at this point that shopping outdoors is the best ventilated place to buy food.

The majority of shoppers at the Vista market come for their health, to be able to afford healthy, organic, or special-diet foods.  It is their choice to shop here or elsewhere as they utilize the available information.

Social Distancing

Mass gatherings are defined as having large numbers of people within an arm’s length of one another.  This reflects the situation at venues where patrons are seated or standing shoulder-to-shoulder, as at concerts, theaters, churches, schools, and similar places.

In addition, the social distancing at a farmers market is greater than at a supermarket.  Our aisles are 15 feet wide, while those in a supermarket are minimum 32 inches wide or average 4 feet wide, this is 375% more distance. The average customer spends 20 minutes in a farmers market, the average customer spends about 41 minutes in a supermarket.

 In addition, we assume that having more places to buy food is better than having fewer.  The fewer there are the LESS social distance possible for a given number of customers.

Future Preparedness

If the county is quarantined, the two days of food in supermarkets will likely run out in a day due to hoarding.  Here’s what would happen then . . . government agencies would say “let’s get local farmers together” at some outdoor place, at a scheduled time so people can buy food.

This is what we HAVE now, operating and keeping local food producers producing and people eating healthy food.”

In addition to this individual newsletter, Saturday’s early morning set up (after the rain during the night) showed extended space between vendors, giving more distance between each booth.

Further observation as to why some smaller markets closed was based on the close proximity within street density, making distancing difficult to expand.  Parking facilities also incur longer exposures in addition to the congested sites.

Within these next few weeks the Vista Farmer’s Market will be open to provide the distancing required, to provide fresh local produce and to continue to serve the patrons of the North County San Diego as we have done during the past thirty years.