I’m writing to express my concern over the Town’s decision to cancel the Chestertown Farmers’ Market. While I appreciate that Mayor and Council are focused on our public health and safety, their decision is in direct contradiction to Maryland Department of Agriculture’s (MDOA) recommendation that there be no interruption to our food supply chain, including farmers’ markets and food banks. From the MDOA March 19 update “Reliable access to food is a human right and it is critical that our food supply chain maintain – and even be prepared to expand – operations through this state of emergency.” In addition to the state of Maryland, lawmakers in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Minnesota have all issued statements that farmers’ markets are essential services.
There are many of us that rely on our local farmers year round, eating only locally grown foods for reasons ranging from health to sustainability. And there are many local farm families for which our market is their primary source of income. Produce in a grocery store chain travels on average 1500 miles from farm to table, and has been handled more times than one would like to count. Meats travel even farther. In contrast, our locally grown produce and meats travel a fraction of the distance. And, our market takes place in open air with space to move away from others. Keeping our market open can be a win for both consumers and producers.
In this frightening time of COVID-19, MDOA urges farmers’ markets to make necessary modifications to promote social distancing and any other changes that reduce the opportunity for infection. Markets around the country are employing a variety of guidelines designed to keep folks safe: sanitary gloves required for market staff who handle money, increasing hand sanitizing stations for producers and customers, regular sanitizing of any touch surfaces, and allocating specific times for elders only. Most importantly, any producer or customer who feels sick should stay home.
I am encouraged that after receiving several letters and emails the Mayor and Town have agreed to revisit their decision at the next meeting of Mayor and Council on April 6th. I hope readers will join me in advocating for the reopening of our farmers’ market. With any luck I’ll see on the other side of the fountain on April 11th.
Stay healthy. Eat local. Flatten the curve.