As health concerns about COVID-19 continue to mount, many local farmers' markets are making changes to their operations for the safety of farmers, market vendors and the public. Although meeting and interacting with farmers is part of the charm and allure of these markets, that experience required some major changes leading up to the spring season for farmers markets.

URBAVORE Urban Farm and Brookside Farmers Market

Farmer Dan Heryer of URBAVORE Urban Farm and board president of the Brookside Farmers Market, which opened on April 11, put several safety protocols into place. Farmers and vendors selling at the market are required to wear masks and sanitize hands between customer interactions, such as payment handling. Hand-washing stations are located at each vendors’ stand. Sampling is no longer allowed, and social distancing measures are put into place between vendors and customers. Customers may not touch products, and contactless payment is available through online ordering. These practices and more have been adopted at farmers' markets throughout Kansas City and the region.

“We also moved the physical location of the market to a larger parking lot at the same school to allow for more distancing,” Heryer says. “Vendors are spread out, and there is a ton of open space for customers. Pre-order customers are encouraged to pick up orders after 10:30am, when the market is normally slower.”

URBAVORE sells a wide variety of organically-grown vegetables and fruit, as well as eggs and pork. “Our farm is allowing pre-orders on high-demand items like fruit to avoid long lines at the start of market,” Heryer says. “Our farm is now offering online ordering and credit card transactions at market, which is a first for us. The credit transactions are touch-less.”

Fair Share Farm

Farmers Tom Ruggieri and Rebecca Graff of Fair Share Farm sell fermented foods in jars at the Brookside Farmers Market, and also sell ferments in bulk via pre-orders placed online. In addition to aforementioned safety measures, they also use a Square stand with a stylus for payment. “Customers can swipe their card and sign with a stylus, which we then sanitize,” Ruggieri says. “We also use a stylus so the screen is not a touch point. We also have a cash jar and a change bar for cash transactions.”

Where the Redfearn Grows Natural Farms

Farmer Dave Redfearn of Where the Redfearn Grows Natural Farms typically sells at the farmers' markets in Overland Park and Lee’s Summit, both of which decided to delay opening for the season. For now, Redfearn sells at Brookside Farmers Market, and customers may pre-order online for pickup.

“We are taking walk-up customers as well,” Redfearn says. “Customers maintain physical distance from us, each other and the produce. Customers call out what they want. We bag it for them and set the bags on an empty table for customers to grab. We have a designated person who handles money and disinfects the card reader between people. These protocols require twice the normal labor to field a much quieter market.”

Redfearn is also taking pre-orders online for direct farm sales and doing drop-offs at pickup points, where farm team members wear masks and gloves. To generate additional sales, Redfearn’s farm has expanded its community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. No money is exchanged for CSA pre-orders, and orders are bagged so customers can grab and go. “We've usually split the farmers' market and CSA at 50-50. This year we are expanding the CSA to 90-10 since we can't count on farmers' market sales,” Redfearn says.

City Market

City Market in the River Market neighborhood is usually a high-traffic destination. During quarantine, essential businesses including specialty grocers, butcher shops and restaurants are open daily. Many businesses have revised their hours and offerings during the mayor’s State of Emergency, according to Sue Patterson, director of marketing at the City Market.

The farmers' market typically operates year-round on Saturdays and Sundays, but during the State of Emergency, these sales are limited to Saturdays only from 9am to 2pm. Only food-related products including produce, prepared foods, vegetable- and fruit-bearing plants and edible plants such as herbs may be sold. The sale of cut flowers, decorative flowering plants, bedding plants and shrubs are not allowed, and merchants and vendors are not allowed to sample food or produce of any kind.

As weather permits, glass roller doors are raised so the market pavilions are open-air. To enable a six-foot personal space perimeter, wayfinding signage and ground decals have been installed throughout the market. The signage directs foot traffic in a single direction through the arcade walkways and farmers' market pavilions. Vendors are spaced at least 10 feet apart and face a single direction to facilitate one-way foot traffic.

“Vehicles will be allowed inside City Market square to facilitate curbside pickup services offered by various merchants and vendors,” Patterson says. “Many vendors have implemented online ordering systems to minimize contact.”

City Market is a key distribution point in the urban food supply chain, especially for low-income buyers dependent on farmers' markets for a steady supply of fresh produce.

“City Market is the largest farmers market in the region that offers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) assistance for lower-income residents, providing vital access to fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins,” Patterson says. “In 2019, City Market processed more than 5,003 transactions in SNAP benefits and matched more than 4,970 additional transactions through DUFB.”

Historic Downtown Liberty Farmers Market

The Historic Downtown Liberty Farmers Market plans to open on Sat., May 2 from 7am to noon, returning on subsequent Saturdays for the season. The market’s website provides safety guidelines for shoppers and vendors. Only vendors selling raw, prepackaged foods and plants that grow food will be allowed to sell at booths. Vendors in the Downtown Square will be separated by six parking spaces, enabling shoppers to pick up pre-orders at a scheduled time.

Market manager Shawn Garland encourages shoppers to “pre-order, pre-pay, pick up orders and leave promptly” for a safe experience. The booth layout does not allow for drive-thru order fulfillment. Garland acknowledges that the farmers' market is a vital resource for local food security. “The market serves the most vulnerable in our community,” he says. “With everyone struggling during these times, it is important that the farmers' market be open. The market accepts EBT/SNAP cards and matches up to $25 with Double Up Food Bucks.”

Downtown Lee's Summit Main Street

While Downtown Lee's Summit Main Street has postponed opening its farmers' market, the market website has compiled an extensive list of vendors who are offering online ordering and pickup or delivery options.

Overland Park Farmers Market

The Overland Park Farmers Market, originally anticipated to open on April 11, delayed its opening until April 25 while developing a detailed plan to ensure safety. The market will be relocated to the parking lot of the Overland Park Convention Center, and a drive-thru format will provide minimal to no-contact shopping. Vehicles will follow a one-way path through the parking lot to the north of the convention center. Shoppers will be encouraged to pre-order items with vendors and pay using contact-free options.

Heading into spring, the initial uncertainty surrounding the Overland Park Farmers Market frustrated many local farmers who scrambled to find solutions. “There are no easy answers right now around where, how and what kind of food we access in the time of COVID-19,” says Katherine Kelly, executive director of Cultivate KC. “What is heartening is that, across the country, state and local governments are treating farmers' markets, right alongside grocery stores, as providers of essential services. From a public health perspective, farmers' markets are making similar accommodations that we are seeing in grocery stores. Many vendors and markets are going even farther in how they will operate to supply safe, healthy food for their customers. Farmers have good food, now, and, as a matter of public health, that food should not go uneaten.”

Schenker Family Farms

The delayed opening of the Overland Park Farmers Market prompted some farmers, such as livestock farmer Cherie Schenker of Schenker Family Farms, to find alternatives to sell their goods. Now, the farm relies more on CSA customers and online orders for home delivery. “Because of the national emergency, we are operating a home delivery route,” says Schenker. “Folks can order online and we deliver to their door.”

In lieu of the market’s opening, Schenker Family Farms coordinated with numerous other vendors to utilize a nearby pickup location. The first farmers’ pickup pop up took place on April 11 in a parking lot at 95th and Woodward. To conduct business safely, Schenker notes that farmers wore masks and changed gloves after each transaction. Safety measures exceed CDC recommendations for social distancing and other guidelines. “Advance online orders are encouraged, as we have a drive-thru, no-contact pickup set up along with our home delivery route,” says Schenker.

Schenker Family Farms, a fifth-generation ranch, is one of many family-owned farms dedicated to food security and safety long before the COVID-19 pandemic arose. “Farmers have a lot of skin in the game,” says Schenker. “We’re concerned about our health, the health of our family and the health of our customers. We’re going above and beyond to be safe for the public.”

Brookside Farmers Market, Border Star Elementary, 6321 Wornall Road, Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, brooksidefarmersmarket.com

City Market, 20 E. Fifth St., River Market, Kansas City, Missouri, thecitymarketkc.org

Lee’s Summit Farmers Market, downtownls.org/market

Liberty Farmers Market, 117B N. Main St., Liberty, Missouri, historicdowntownliberty.org/farmers-market

Overland Park Farmers Market, Overland Park Convention Center north parking lot, 6000 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kansas, opkansas.org/recreation-fun/farmers-market