Michigan Farmers Markets Adapt Amid COVID-19 Concerns

COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for farmers and markets alike. With the agricultural food supply chain at risk and local economies hurt by business closures, farmers markets are important as ever. According to Feeding America, millions of Michiganders are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Farmers markets are an important way for people to get fresh, healthy food directly from producers, and serve as important links between farmers and communities.

MIFMA conducted a survey of market managers on April 24, 2020 regarding their markets’ responses to COVID-19. Over half of the 136 market managers polled planned to open on schedule with modified in-person sales. Nearly one-third of markets indicated they planned to implement a pre-order pickup system to allow customers to purchase products while maintaining social distancing. 

A market shopper loads their purchases from the Kalamazoo Farmers Market’s new drive-thru market. Photo by the Kalamazoo Farmers Market.

Market managers have had to make difficult decisions about when to reopen, and a few elected to stay closed. Katelyn Bekken, of the Kalamazoo Farmers Market, says the biggest factor she considered when deciding to open was discouraging spread of the virus. The market has implemented a pre-order, drive-thru pickup model inspired by other farmers markets nationwide. Bekken says, “Our market is known for being crowded and congested … keeping our community, vendors, and staff safe was our biggest concern. I would like folks to know that we appreciate their patience and support with these always changing times. We know this isn’t the most ideal situation but we’re all doing our best to adapt, create access, and most importantly, stay safe.” 

An Eastern Market Partnership employee shows off an Eastern Market Food Box. Photo from Eastern Market Partnership.

The Eastern Market in Detroit has been connecting communities with local farm products for over 150 years. Patrice Brown, the Food Access Manager, says that local businesses are excited to “get back to their roots” and begin working more closely with the market. “The Eastern Market looks at itself as a public market and not just a farmers market,” says Brown. Market managers have been working with the City of Detroit to maintain proper social distancing practices while safely fostering the market as a public space, such as limiting the number of people in the market at one time and offering curbside pickup options for certain products.

The Pittsfield Township Farmers Market advertises their new online ordering platform. Graphic and photo from Pittsfield Township Farmers Market.

With summer on our doorsteps and restrictions being lifted, market managers are making decisions with their communities at the forefront. Tina Lloyd, the Community Outreach and Farmers Market Coordinator for Pittsfield Charter Township, says, “We have modified our market to focus on safe access to local food.” This is Lloyd’s 12th season as a market manager, and she plans to prepare and adapt her market to the changing landscapes. “Our modified programming activities will include Facebook Live cooking demos, and take-home crafts, and projects for the kids.” 

There is no one right set of answers on how to reopen markets, and the solution will look different for each market. Markets are committed to practices that support social distancing and are prepared to modify retail operations to include alternatives such as curbside pickup and delivery to minimize human interaction during purchases. MIFMA is committed to supporting organizers, managers, farmers, vendors, and friends to create a thriving marketplace for local food and farm products. 

To view MIFMA’s resources, guidance, and considerations on operating farmers markets in Michigan during this period of heightened public safety, please visit http://mifma.org/covid-19-resources.  To find your local market and check updated hours, visit mifma.org/findafarmersmarket.