Essential Businesses Continue to Feed Their Neighbors and Support Farmers
By Marcella Micillo, CT Food Systems Alliance
In March 2020, as the COVID pandemic re-organized the way people shopped, cooked, and socialized, Connecticut officials quickly designated farmers’ markets as “essential businesses” to keep them open during the shut-down. This maintained farmers’ livelihoods, provided fresh food to residents, and offered a sense of normalcy during a turbulent season.
Government nutrition programs help make Connecticut’s farmers markets more accessible. Nearly all of Connecticut’s farmers’ markets participate in the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), meaning they accept Women, Infant and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) vouchers, and almost half accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Outdoor markets can help shoppers avoid COVID infection. To serve their customers while meeting new guidelines for safety during the pandemic, CT farmers markets have innovated new programs and services, including pre-order systems, drive-thru operations, and special programs to serve vulnerable and food-insecure populations in Connecticut. CitySeed, which operates five markets in New Haven, lets customers pre-order and have boxes of food placed directly into their car trunks. In addition to their normal practice of doubling SNAP dollars at their markets, CitySeed also matched FMNP and SFMNP vouchers throughout the season.
In Danbury, farmers’ market staff created two grab-and-go monthly programs for seniors. The first allowed Danbury Senior Center members to get fresh food monthly, either through CSA-style boxes of produce selected by vendors, or via $10 vouchers that seniors could spend at the market. Another program collaborated with Age Well Connecticut to accept two $3 FMNP coupons, or any monetary donation, in exchange for a box of fresh produce worth $12.
Connecticut market managers also developed educational programming that attracted customers while maintaining social distancing. The Danbury Farmers’ Market worked with their local library to provide scavenger hunt activities throughout the market. In lieu of in-person storytime gatherings, the Durham Farmers’ Market partnered with the Durham Public Library for a “Storywalk”, a walk-thru storybook with laminated pages dispersed throughout the market.
“WE’RE DEFINITELY THE BUSIEST WE’VE EVER BEEN AT THIS MARKET. WHAT COVID DID WAS MAKE PEOPLE REALIZE THAT IT IS IMPORTANT TO SHOP LOCAL AGAIN,”
-JON SCAGNELLI, DURHAM FARMERS MARKET MANAGER
Some of these adaptations are likely to endure beyond the pandemic. Pre-orders help farmers estimate how much product to bring to the markets, limiting harvest labor and food waste, and letting shoppers pick up exactly what they want even if they cannot make it to the market early. Home deliveries offer a valuable way for disabled or homebound customers to still access the farmers’ bounty. Online ordering has also set a valuable standard for farmer-consumer communication. For example, the Ellington Farmers’ Market page now connects shoppers directly to farmers for pre-orders. “[We will continue] always giving the option to contact the vendor individually and the option to pre-order,” said Ellington Farmers Market Manager Dianne Trueb, “That’s a good thing and it’s easy - you just put it [a pre-order link] on your website and people can use it or not use it.”
Learn more about CT Farmers Markets as essential businesses during the pandemic
Learn more about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets
Photo Credit: Ellington Farmers Market