Masked Market

Stonington holds a farmers’ market in the parking lot of the community center every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.  Last Friday we paid our first visit to the market during the COVID-19 era.

There’s no doubt the coronavirus has had an impact on the market.  For starters, there were fewer tents and tables set up by sellers, and they all were all distanced from each other, which gave the market a more spread-out feel.  There were fewer people walking around, too — and of course everyone was masked.  There was a pleasant young woman at the entrance to the market who was the designated “masking enforcer,” tasked with keeping the unmasked from entering.  She reminded us of the need to be masked and had hand sanitizer that she was ready to share with anyone who wanted to scrub up.  The potential customers weren’t supposed to touch or handle anything and also were supposed to keep their distance from each other — as the posted signs indicated.  As a result of all of these factors, the market didn’t have the bustling, crowded atmosphere that you associate with a good farmers’ market and that we saw at this market last year.

Still, in a weird year where all kinds of performances and events and community gathering opportunities are being cancelled outright, it was encouraging that the Stonington farmers’ market was being held at all.  And my sense from interacting with them was that the artisanal farmers who were participating definitely appreciated just having the opportunity to sell their vegetables and fruits and smoked meats and farm fresh eggs directly to the public.  If you are a small-business owner who is counting on different farmers’ markets as venues to sell your products, outright cancellation of all of your sales outlets would be devastating.  If the economy is truly going to recover, and the recovery is going to small-business owners like artisanal farmers, it is crucial to have events like farmers’ markets.

As has been the case throughout the coronavirus reopening period, Kish and I spent more than we really needed to, just to try to help the sellers get back on their feet and recover from a challenging time.  We bought eggs and cheese and smoked meat from multiple stands, and it all was great.

We’ll be going back to the farmers’ market on Friday, and will try to pay the market a visit on every Friday when we are here.  And I bet that we’re going to see a definite pick-up in the number of people selling and the number of people buying, as the word gets out that you can do so safely and people decide they are willing to accept the risk.  While appropriately masked and distanced, of course.

Farmers’ Markets Without Farmers

Richard has another good story in the Chicago Tribune today.  This one is about farmers’ markets in the Chicago area that don’t have enough participating farmers.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “urban food deserts” — that is, entire sections of urban areas where it is claimed that only fast food outlets, gas stations, and convenience stores sell food, and those outlets don’t stock fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and other healthy eats.  As a result, the theory goes, people in those areas eat only crummy, salty, fatty, processed snack foods like chips and soda rather than green beans and peaches.

In Chicago, some people have tried to set up farmers’ markets to address the issue.  The problem, though, is that there aren’t enough farmers to go around.  Farmers want to go to places where there will be lots of traffic and not too much competition for sales of the goods they will offer.  Inner-city farmers’ markets often lose out in the cost-benefit analysis, and offering incentives might not make up the difference.

It’s surprising that Chicago is having this problem, because once you get outside of the Chicago metropolitan area Illinois is primarily an agricultural state.  You would think there would be lots of farmers, cheesemakers, and other food artisans willing to load up their wares and take them to the big city for sale.  The fact that it isn’t happening suggests that addressing the “food desert” issue might be more difficult than people think.