Are Farmers’ Markets ‘essential’? New campaign asks mayor to change her mind, while vendors try other ways to sell

(WSB photo, March 8th)

That photo is from March 8th, the last West Seattle Farmers’ Market before markets were shut down by order of Mayor Jenny Durkan, who grouped them with other “permtted events.” Today is the second Sunday without a WSFM; the order affected others around the city too. Market managers have launched a letter-signing campaign to get the mayor to change her mind. They’re asking for signatures. The letter begins:

To Mayor Durkan & City of Seattle Partners,

It is our firm conviction that farmers markets are an essential part of Seattle’s food supply and that they should remain open, along with grocery stores, during the COVID-19 outbreak. We are gravely concerned about the abrupt closure of farmers markets at a time when food supply chains and our economy are under threat.

The truth is, if we cannot support and strengthen our region’s farmers during this crisis, that many small farms will not recover from the market closures and that our local food supply and regional network of farmland will be forever changed. Moreover, farmers markets serve shoppers who rely on using their SNAP and SNAP-incentive benefits like Fresh Bucks to purchase fresh food. For those who have already withdrawn benefits at the markets, they cannot now use them at grocery stores.

We are calling on City of Seattle leaders in local government to:

1) Designate farmers markets as an essential business and exempt them from the blanket suspension of permitted events;

2) Work with market management organizations to approve operating plans that support public health orders and CDC guidance on distancing, sanitation, and employee health, and;

3) Commit to closing the policy loophole that lumps farmers markets in the City of Seattle with events, festivals, and other street-use events.

We urge leaders in Seattle to take the actions above, and ultimately to ensure that Washington’s small family farms can continue to provide a vital service in feeding the community during a time of increased need.

The letter goes on to mention other areas of the country in which farmers’ markets are designated as “essential” businesses – you can see for yourself in San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order, for example. The letter also notes that the markets also have not been part of any of our governor’s orders, just the city. If you are interested in signing, go here and scroll to the bottom.

Meantime, market managers have compiled a long list of vendors and how to get their wares while the markets remain closed, some with pickups and pop-ups in West Seattle – see it here.

69 Replies to "Are Farmers' Markets 'essential'? New campaign asks mayor to change her mind, while vendors try other ways to sell"

  • IDK March 22, 2020 (12:15 pm)

    Grocery stores are out of a lot of stuff, is there any way they could sell to the grocery stores? Or set up mini stalls in the parking lot or something instead?

    • Blbl March 22, 2020 (1:47 pm)

      This is very misleading. Grocery stores are NOT out of produce. Farmers markets are not grocery stores and they are not capable of maintaining the hygiene that grocery stores can. 

  • Alki resident March 22, 2020 (12:35 pm)

    Thank you for bringing this up. We absolutely need our farmers markets. We can’t go without fresh produce which is also a domino effect to our farmers. Please keep them open

  • Mj March 22, 2020 (12:39 pm)

    I’m not sure what is worse destroying the economy or letting the virus run its course?  The middle ground is keeping schools closed, encouraging those that are ill to stay home and provide compensation, social distancing and after another week letting businesses open back up.  Those that are vulnerable need to continue to take added precautions.  

    • MrsT March 22, 2020 (1:29 pm)

      Do you sincerely believe that allowing Millions of people to die from this virus for which there is no cure, which is described as a “lung eater”, is worth any amount of money or jobs? You can’t spend money or work if you are dead. I find it scandalous that anyone would suggest that any amount of money is worth human life.

    • Ice March 22, 2020 (1:48 pm)

      I thought this was all an overreaction at first too, but then I learned about exponential spread of disease and what is happening in Rome and other places. Our medical system could literal collapse because of this virus. All of the current measures governments and individuals are putting in place will hugely reduce this viruses destructive wake. If we look at the history of the 1918 flu, we can learn lots of lessons. St.louis had a strong quarantine policy and they had many less deaths than cities like Chicago, which did very little to prevent the spread.I’ve seen worse case scenarios of up to a million people dying in the US if we cannot slow the rate of spread of COVID-19. The spread needs to be slowed so all of those who will need medical attention can receive it. We are pretty much just at the beginning of this whole thing, and our hospitals are already full and severely struggling.also, there are other huge pressures on the economy right now besides the long shadow of COVID-19. There is an oil price war going on. So I am not sure that burying our heads in the sand would be good for the economy in the long run.

  • Steve March 22, 2020 (12:48 pm)

    Some want to sell fruit and doesn’t matter to them how many get infected. That market goes up, people will get infected and the spread will be worse. Maybe sell to the grocery stores. Grocery stores will remain open because they are truly essential. 

    • Ice March 22, 2020 (1:55 pm)

      This is a pretty negative and mean generalization. The people who sell stuff at the farmers market are certainly not rich and they are selling us something everyone literally needs to survives (food). The economy shutting down is going to push a lot of financially struggling people over the edge. I hope we can find an alternative that will help slow the spread of this virus, but also help to keep the people at the farmers market around and making money.

    • Jake Chang March 23, 2020 (11:39 pm)

      Have you see the lines of people at Costco or Wenco?  If you’re worried about getting infected it’s those people that line up so close to each other.   Not the farmers market because it’s out in the open space. 

  • M B March 22, 2020 (1:06 pm)

    An option might be a delivery service. The post office will continue operating as an essential service and if tougher restrictions are set grocery stores may also be affected. It might be good to for the goverment to think of a produce box that can be delivered via USPS buying what they can off of the farmers to help support social distancing while also ensuring food access and helping prop up the farms that operate on small margins to help minimize economic impact.

    • WSB March 22, 2020 (1:17 pm)

      If you follow the link at the end, some are trying delivery service. There was also a survey two weeks ago asking if people might be interested in a box ala CSA …I would suspect however that trying to coordinate multiple vendors for something like that is more than the Farmers’ Market management, which is a small nonprofit, has bandwidth to coordinate.

  • Gene March 22, 2020 (1:19 pm)

    I sure don’t want to see the end of farmers markets-but how would you practice social distancing -a line at every vendors booth-each person standing 6 ‘ away from the other? Just trying to see what each vendor has would be a challenge. 

    • KM March 22, 2020 (1:47 pm)

      Just do what you do at the grocery store, except outside.

      • Gene March 22, 2020 (2:29 pm)


      • Avalon Resident March 22, 2020 (2:55 pm)

        A lot of grocery stores are limiting the number of people allowed inside. I’m torn on this one, since the farmers market has always been more crowded and social in my experience than any grocery store. I don’t agree with some people’s assessment about comparative hygiene practices– there’s risk interacting with any vendor. But I don’t know how we could truly manage social distancing at a farmers market. 

        • Also John March 22, 2020 (5:21 pm)

          I went to Trader Joes about 4 days ago.  I stepped in, looked around and left.   The inside was shoulder to shoulder with shoppers.  No one in line was practicing safe distance.  It was a petry dish.  No thx.   I ended up going to Safeway the next morning immediately after they opened.  Much safer.

          • KM March 22, 2020 (6:34 pm)

            That’s some of my reasoning for keeping them open. Grocery stores aren’t under any specific orders to enforce social distancing and each store is managing it, or not, differently. It’s crazy to close down an outdoor food market but not an indoor food market—they both sell groceries which are an essential industry. 

          • CAM March 22, 2020 (7:40 pm)

            Grocery stores, and all other retail establishments that remain open currently, ARE actually required to enforce social distancing. They are supposed to have appointed a member of their staff to specifically manage social distancing. 

          • KM March 22, 2020 (9:24 pm)

            Hmmm, I have yet to see this at any store. But it’s a good idea! I think it should be done at grocery stores and the farmers market, and both should be open.

          • CAM March 22, 2020 (9:45 pm)

            It’s under #4 below: 

          • KM March 23, 2020 (8:54 am)

            I believe you! I just don’t think an outdoor food market should be punished because of this concern when indoor food markets are not adhering to the outlined rules. That’s all.

        • Ice March 22, 2020 (5:49 pm)

          I think the problem is that people go to farmer’s markets to socialize. I know I do. The problem doesn’t have to do with the ‘hygiene’ of the vendors or patrons.  SARS-COV-2 (the virus) doesn’t actually survive outside very well. Sunlight harms it and it doesn’t stick to porous surfaces very well. In some ways a Farmer’s Market setting is actually better than the grocery store, but the socialization and large crowd aspect is what makes the farmers market a much bigger concern than a grocery store. It would be hard to break up this crowd-outdoor-happy-fun-talk-to-people close up tendency when it is what people are so used to.

    • Beckie March 23, 2020 (5:35 am)

      This is how it was done at a small market in Salem, NH.  1. Used the large parking lot at the school where the winter market is normally inside. 2. A volunteer directed parking. 3. Booths were properly distanced. 4. Lines formed at each booth where customers would purchase their goods. 5. Volunteers helped maintain the 6 ft rule. Everyone was great about it.

  • CAM March 22, 2020 (1:21 pm)

    What changes do the farmers markets intend to implement to make themselves more compliant with social distancing and prevent spread of the virus? Every time I’ve been to any of the markets in Seattle people are crowded around the stalls, there’s lots of exchange of cash, there’s not a lot of room to move in the surrounding areas, etc. If they proposed a plan for how to make the environment safer in the current circumstances that might get them more support. 

    • WSB March 22, 2020 (1:32 pm)

      The letter goes into more detail. Entire letter linked in two places above; here’s the link

      • High Point March 22, 2020 (2:22 pm)

        The letter does not say how social distancing will be enforced. I’m not signing until I know specifics. 

      • dsa March 22, 2020 (3:22 pm)

        The letter does state what steps will be taken to protect the public.  Plus it includes this statement from the governor:  ” Additionally, guidance received from Governor Inslee’s office (March 13
        and 16) affirms “Farmers markets are not included in today’s
        proclamation/ban. We are treating them like grocery stores.””

        • CAM March 22, 2020 (5:13 pm)

          The letter stages they are going to comply, it doesn’t say how. In my experience, when making a business proposal asking for approval of something that could involve risk it’s appropriate to provide details about how you’ll mitigate that risk. Look at the emails we’ve gotten from grocery stores and other businesses and the level of detail they’ve given. 

  • Rr March 22, 2020 (1:38 pm)

    I’m totally sympathetic to what these vendors and farms are experiencing but I think the main objection I have to the idea of keeping these open is that they require multiple sales transactions to shop. When we shop at a supermarket we don’t transact at every department before moving on to the next. We don’t discuss the offerings in each department with a representative of that department. We don’t typically buy the ingredients of entire meals there, thereby necessitating another trip. What we love about farmers markets is partly the boutique like experience and feeling of community connection. But that’s too risky at the moment and the efficiency of supermarkets is what’s essential now.

  • AMD March 22, 2020 (1:45 pm)

    In my opinion, one of the biggest things the WS Farmer’s Market could do to help maintain social distancing without closing entirely would be to stretch out over two blocks instead of one.  The distance between the tents would inherently give shoppers more room to spread out as they browse.  It would also allow vendors more space to spread themselves out instead of constantly being within 6′ of the vendor next to them.  I think removable stickers/markers to show people exactly how far away 6′ is while browsing could also help (once it gets rainy people have a tendency to want to crowd under the edge of the canopy, so a visual reminder to stay spread out would be helpful).  There are some serious logistics involved in these ideas, but if it could get the farmer’s market back up and running again, it might be worth exploring.

    • KM March 22, 2020 (2:32 pm)

      This is an awesome idea! I think the city should be closing off roads to allow for social distancing exercise so people aren’t cramming onto often narrow sidewalks anyhow in this time, and spreading out the market across 2 blocks is another great way to use our roadways in a safe manner.

    • Jort March 22, 2020 (8:34 pm)

      I am all for this, as it would take back more of our public land from the iron grip of automobile enthusiasts and show that we can use our public land (streets) for better purposes, including community spaces. I think California Ave in the Junction should be completely car-free, 365 days a year, but I do also understand how much that would viscerally hurt peoples’ feelings, so I won’t push too hard for it.

  • ACE March 22, 2020 (1:59 pm)

    For those who have been to the grocery store lately for essentials, crowding exists there too. I am confident that our farmers market vendors can be creative and make this work. It will mean a different experience at the market but that seems better than no market at all. I’d rather get my produce, eggs, etc. in a controlled capacity market outdoors than squeezed into a busy indoor grocery store.

  • RT March 22, 2020 (2:17 pm)

    I for one, am grateful that Inslee ordered businesses to close.  Without that official order there would be no compensation for service providing employees like myself.   The business owner may want to stay open at the cost of the health of their employees.  Going to work everyday and wondering if you are unknowingly infecting others and possibly being infected yourself is the most anxious I have ever been in my life.  A lot of options come from people who are themselves, not service providers or in the industry.  Just saying.  Sorry this is not really in response to the farmers market, more to having businesses reopen for a week…

  • anonyme March 22, 2020 (2:23 pm)

    Are grocery stores enforcing social distancing?  How do you stay 6 feet away from someone in a grocery aisle?  It seems to me that open-air markets are safer than enclosed stores.  Forcing farmers to close up shop while allowing corporate grocery stores to remain open is punitive and unjust.  I’m a super paranoid 68-year old that has been in isolation for 6 weeks, but I don’t see the scientific basis for closing markets as long as precautions are put in place.  The market cannot be used as a social gathering place as is usual.

  • 22blades March 22, 2020 (4:29 pm)

    For the sake of public safety, I think it is inappropriate or a very real threat to continue the open street markets. We have orders in place because of the fact that a large portion of the public cannot discipline themselves into safe behaviors & risking others. The last few days at Alki are an example. I would ask; would the photo above alarm you if your neighborhood block had deaths? The threat is very real and very near. The effect or chance of mitigating the fallout is slipping away for your “freedoms”. Simply, you do not know if you already are a source point. I urge everyone to support a safe environment.

  • Kale March 22, 2020 (4:30 pm)

    The farmers market is a community social gathering meant to boost weekend foot traffic in the surrounding shops, bars, and restaurants that are now shuttered. What’s essential here is that we spend as little time as possible around each other while we burn through healthcare resources trying to save people’s lives. The farmers market, and all those who willingly bought into it, can wait.

    • WSB March 22, 2020 (5:12 pm)

      Just a correction. No, the market is NOT by any means something for the benefit of brick-mortar businesses. Many aren’t even open Sundays. Some were opposed to closing the street for it.

      • Graciano March 22, 2020 (5:38 pm)

        How many of these farmers/vendors actually grow the veggies they sell versa buy it from our local produce companies? Just wondering

        • WSB March 22, 2020 (5:53 pm)

          Never heard of reselling. Do tell.

          • graciano March 22, 2020 (6:13 pm)

            Well like Tony’s on 35th they purchase from a local produce company and resell. 

          • WSB March 22, 2020 (6:59 pm)

            They’ve never claimed to be a farmers’ market and in fact that’s why they’re open.

          • graciano March 22, 2020 (7:05 pm)

            That’s why I said “just wondering”.  But I have seen produce boxes at the Farmer’s Markets, not necessarily the WS one.

        • Christina Hahs March 24, 2020 (8:50 am)

          Reselling is strictly prohibited at WS and most Seattle farmers markets. If you’re buying produce/dairy/eggs, it’s from the farm that produced it. They enforce this with farm visits and audits.

      • Kale March 22, 2020 (5:46 pm)

        Split hairs much? Plenty of those businesses are open by afternoon on weekends. And it’s more symbiotic than not. Anyways, the bigger issue is WSB providing a platform and links for the market manager’s organized absurdity in a time of crisis. Similar to the bar crawl last week. I suggest leaving COVID-19 reporting to the professionals at the Seattle Times.

        • WSB March 22, 2020 (5:51 pm)

          I’d say we’re “stepping up,” thank you very much. This deserves discussion as do many things. Other elected officials have not closed their markets, as noted, so it’s not a universally held belief that they’re dangerous.

        • Jethro Marx March 22, 2020 (6:40 pm)

          Sounds like you’re suggesting we eliminate both the freedom to petition government for a redress of grievances and the freedom of the press to report on current events. Can that possibly be correct? Those are, to many, fighting words, although I am old enough to know absurdity when I see it. 

          • Kale March 22, 2020 (7:23 pm)

            We’re approaching a time where emergency powers, martial law, and suspensions to some constitutional rights are being considered. Not to mention China and its authoritarian government effectively stymying infection rates through lockdowns. The rules we’re use to might not apply soon. So, I’m suggesting we take this pandemic seriously and avoid dramatic government actions by following exactly what’s been prescribed thus far without advertising or validating misguided attempts at more social gathering. Stay at home, go to the grocery store once a week. That simple. 

        • miws March 22, 2020 (7:15 pm)

          Kale, I don’t know how long you’ve been following WSB, but, the co-publishers each worked for decades in corporate media, before starting this award-winning local online news site around 13 years ago now.  They have quite well proven by now that they are professionals. —Mike

          • Kale March 23, 2020 (12:35 am)

            This is a once-in-a-century pandemic. No one is experienced in a crisis at this scale. WSB deserves a critical eye when its a platform for groups seeking exceptions for themselves. Professional experience or not. 

          • run_dmc March 23, 2020 (10:14 am)

            This is not a once-in-a-century pandemic.  It’s not even a once in the last 10 years pandemic.  And, it’s by a long margin, not the most destructive pandemic we’ve had in the last 20 years.  (Now, is it a once in a century reaction – very likely.)  I suggest conducting analysis of the response to this based within the context of a sober look at the facts and not wild exaggerations.

  • support our local farmers March 22, 2020 (4:40 pm)

    Would be great if the farmers market vendors could partner up with local grocery stores and sell their goods there… I wonder what constraints there are with this?  I could see a section in the produce department with a sign promoting locally farmed produce.  I could also see baked goods and such selling in a similar way.  I know it’s not as ideal as selling direct to customers, but maybe theres a temporary arrangement and way this could work?

    • run_dmc March 23, 2020 (1:07 pm)

      I wondered this myself.   Are there legal limitations on this?  Or, just competitive pressures – which could be set aside temporarily.  Because, the former fresh produce space on Fauntleroy or the space on 35th and Barton must get their produce from local farmers, no?  I used to buy much of my fresh produce from the former Fauntleroy spot (really miss it!) and now go to the spot on 35th.  They are rarely super crowded, certainly no more so than the supermarkets.  Maybe there could be more spots like that opened up temporarily if supermarkets can’t/won’t take local farmers produce?

    • Christina Hahs March 24, 2020 (8:53 am)

      Most grocery stores require that farms have specific govt. certifications before they’ll buy, certifications that aren’t required of small farms. Plus, the price they’ll pay for most produce is less than the cost of producing it for the smaller farms.

  • Just saying March 22, 2020 (4:53 pm)

    I love the farmers market but that picture alone shows it would be almost impossible to practice social distancing there. Too many people love the farmers market and it would be way too over crowded. Sorry.

  • Concerned March 22, 2020 (5:01 pm)

    Until I saw how dangerously crowded a Farmers’ Market in the Bay Area looked,, I would have jumped at signing this. I did not understand why the Mayor shut down our Farmers’ Markets… but now I believe it was the right call. I miss the Farmers’ Market and am VERY concerned about the farmers. However, I am more concerned about a future in our area where a doctor has to randomly choose which COVID-19 patient gets a ventilator and which one does not. 

  • Chris March 22, 2020 (5:32 pm)

    the cost of traveling and paying for the location might not be worth it for most of the farmers. turnout would be minimal.

  • John March 22, 2020 (5:46 pm)

    I hope we can agree that the market has significantly increased foot traffic and crowds during a formerly quiet time of the Junction.   It has become a community event that now defines the Junction on Sunday.   Some of that increased market traffic has wandered into shops and restaurants.   I have not heard of any of the businesses, new or old, that continue to voice their initial concerns.  Some of the service businesses  are also newer to the Junction than the Farmers Market.Another issue would be the street shut down for the market would conflict with the newly established pu zones on California.

  • Jim March 22, 2020 (5:59 pm)

    I’m sure this must have been thought of by now, but if you moved the Farmer’s Market to private property like the Junction parking lots, wouldn’t that do an end around the special event permit? 

  • March 22, 2020 (9:06 pm)

    Move them to one side let people drive through. Read some where some markets have adopted this.  Adopt a northbound a one way street and people can slowly drive in.  Looks easy to do ! 

  • Andrea March 22, 2020 (9:08 pm)

    I am a Farmer’s Market vendor from Texas. Our market is declared an outdoor grocery and I feel it is a blessing to be able to offer local food to our patrons at this very important time.  We are intelligent enough to maintain our cleanliness and actually more tenacious. I can quickly sanitize my table after every customer. Can your local big box store accomplish that?Our market is local produce and soaps etc. only. No shady types waiting around to cheat people while we get rich. Of course, I really don’t see reselling any produce as the path to wealth but from the comments here it seems rampant. I risk myself to go out there and sell because I care about my customers and I feel my leafy greens, onions, radishes, herbs and tomato plants are superior to what is out at the store and I offered my product at a lowered rate for people to be able to afford more.  So think about vendors like myself who will not absolutely go broke or miss rent if they did not go to market but chose to do so, with the utmost care, for my community. That is certainly not what the comments reflect.  This is no time to be judgemental. And even those of us whose livelihood depends on what we make at markets would not make a decision that would risk our families and friends lives. Give us some credit.                  

    • Jon March 22, 2020 (10:38 pm)

      Hi Andrea from Texas! I’m curious if you’ve visited WSB in the past? I know that I typically don’t post comments (that read a bit like someone in PR smoothed) on local Texas news sites. Fact is that the farmers market provides another venue where the virus can spread. If you don’t understand why this matters, please take 5 minutes and bring yourself up to speed on Italy. 

    • run_dmc March 23, 2020 (10:21 am)

      Here, here Andrea!  And, we are not Italy.  In fact, Italy’s situation has been different from most of the western world not only for this, but for other infectious diseases.  It’s not a good comparator.  

      • Kevin March 23, 2020 (3:34 pm)

        Tell the families of the 87 dead people in King county that Italy isn’t a good comparator. That will certainly make them feel better. 

  • Madmetser March 23, 2020 (1:29 am)

    Keep them closed we are not at our peak of cases and healthcare systems near max. Cant control effective distancing in market setup. Plus the coming/going of vendors from Seattle to smaller farm communities will put them at risk. Do you knowingly bring sick animals into your herd? Plus

  • Wolfgang March 23, 2020 (10:53 am)

    We need the farmers markets open, some of us who are immunocompromised can’t even get into the grocery stores right when they open and aren’t over 60 years old so we get dirty looks if we show up for senior hour (not to mention we’d like to let as many of them have the space to shop safely and privately) Bring out the farmers, bring out the coffee roasters, some of us are trying to do the right thing (and have been long before this) by staying home and brewing and cooking all our own foods and we aren’t even able to acquire an ample stock to be able to do that right now.

  • lookingforlogic March 23, 2020 (9:10 pm)

    I read about washing my produce during the corvid-19 quarantine and it was stated that rinsing anything with warm water disrupts the virus.    It is worth considering the environment required to support the virus and whether standard practices of food distribution, standard cooking practices and basic washing of produce results in possible virus transmission. We have a basic process of prepping our produce by spraying with a 4 parts water to 1 part vinegar, rinsing and then we brine the produce in a 1 tablespoon salt in a gallon of water, rinse, drain and refrigerate or keep on the counter.  I don’t have much waste, so I think it’s helpful.  

  • Stella March 24, 2020 (8:57 am)

    Now that the bridge is closed, the Farmer’s Market can set up there.  Plenty of room for social distancing too!!

  • Yesi Merino March 26, 2020 (1:59 pm)

    I think farmers should reach out to market chains and local mom and pop markets to sell their fresh produce. As far as having a farmers market open is not safe for the farmer selling and for the customer buying and large crowds can form.        

Sorry, comment time is over.