Vancouver Island farmers’ markets allowed to continue for now

B.C. Centre for Disease Control does not consider a properly distanced market a high-risk setting

Some Vancouver Island Farmers’ Markets continue to operate while meeting provincial social distancing standards.

The Duncan Farmer’s Market proceeded March 21, after initially announcing it would not.

Meanwhile, the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market moved Saturday from the Native Sons Hall to the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Comox Valley market implemented several temporary safeguards, such as hand-washing stations and restricting the number of customers. The 26 vendors in attendance didn’t offer samples of products, and reduced the handling of money.

“A couple of vendors had an extra person with them, one to handle cash, and one to handle product,” CVFM general manager Twila Skinner said. “We were just over 30 people. We’d allow close to 20 people on the field at any one time.”

Patrons were asked to keep a two-metre social distance from each other while waiting in line.

“We didn’t have any significantly long lineups,” Skinner said. “People were pretty good about waiting, and they knew why they had to wait.”

The market relaxed its rule that prohibits sales before 9 a.m.

“There were customers there early, and in an effort to not have any lineups outside the vendors’ booths, we implemented that,” Skinner said.

On Monday, the regional district closed the facilities at the Exhibition Grounds. However, the CVFM is exempt from the closure because the B.C. Centre for Disease Control does not consider farmers markets a high-risk setting for the transmission of COVID-19.

“They allowed us at least [for] now,” Skinner said. “Things could change between now and Saturday, but at the moment we have permission to run the market on Saturday.”

CVFM customers have been encouraged to consider pre-ordering products, and to make a trip less of a social event and more of a grocery run.

In Cowichan, meanwhile, the market opened in a limited capacity after consultation with the City of Duncan and health officials.

The stalls were farther apart, vendors will sanitize between customers and the hope is people will keep their distance when a vendor is dealing with another customer. Many vendors are also accepting online orders of pick-up orders if you contact them directly.

The official response from the City of Duncan is as follows:

” At this time, in consultation with the Medical Health Officer and in support of local food security, the Duncan Farmers’ Market on Saturdays at City Square will continue offering farm and food products only, to a maximum of 20 vendors. This is in line with grocery stores and take-out food services. Measures will be in place to protect vendors and patrons such as distancing between vendors and no product sampling.”

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said government will be providing financial support for the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) to develop an operating model better suited to times of a pandemic.

“Farmers in B.C. are a fundamental part of our food system, and farmers markets come in many shapes and sizes,” Popham said in a statement. “Regrettably, at this time, the COVID-19 pandemic means they will not be about socializing and community. They will be focused on serving a very important purpose, though: helping people all over this province access fresh, locally grown or raised meat and other proteins, vegetables, fruit, and many more foods and beverages.”

The BCAFM plans to release an online method to connect consumers with farmers.

“I’m working on other options for our vendors, such as an online store, so that customers can still get access to the product,” Skinner said. “Hopefully, we can be back in the field soon and back to our normal ways.”

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