Nov 30, 2020
Michigan farmers’ markets adjust to pandemic

Most of the Michigan’s 240 farmers’ markets survived during the pandemic that upended the way fresh produce, baked goods and other items are sold at the popular venues.

According to a story by Judy Putnam of Capital News Network, requiring masks and hand-washing stations, moving outdoors and limiting crowds were some of the mechanisms to deal with the coronavirus that first hit Michigan hard in the spring. The main season is May to October with about two dozen markets that stay open year-round, according to the Michigan Farmers Market Association.

Kara de Alvare, marketing coordinator for the Holland Farmers Market, said it was a challenge to stay open. Some customers criticized staff – in person and on social media – for requiring them to wear masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Crowds, which could peak at 10,000 to 15,000 a summer weekend in past years, were limited to 250 customers at a time, she said. Vendors dropped in number from 90 to 75.

But overall, de Alvare said the shoppers who did visit bought more and the market experienced a wave of new customers with food assistance. Many of them took advantage of a federally funded Double Up Food Bucks program that matches each $1 of assistance spent on fresh produce.

“It was stressful but we heard over and over again from people now happy they were and that it brought a little bit of normalcy to people’s lives,” she said. “It was definitely worth the effort to be open.”

The Capital News Network story also reported:

That’s a theme heard around the state, said Hailey Lamb, communications manager for the Michigan Farmers Market Association.

“Many markets had smaller crowds overall but higher spending totals,” she said. “Markets had a lot of new customers and many of them were shopping with food assistance benefits for the first time.”

As people were furloughed or lost their jobs due to the pandemic, the number receiving federal food assistance jumped 30% between February and May, peaking at 1.5 million state residents, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Lamb also said some new customers sought out farmer markets as grocery stores ran out of items due to the pandemic.

“Anecdotally, we’ve heard that markets had at least as good if not dramatically better than past seasons. While there weren’t things like live music, and some markets adapted to alternative sales like online sales and drive-through markets, sales were up,” she said.

Only three markets closed this year –  in Munising, Benzonia and Grayling – while the three-times-a year farmers market on the Capitol lawn moved online. A new market in Marlette in the Thumb opened.

The coronavirus did keep some regulars away, managers reported.

To view the entire Capital News Service story, visit here.

 


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