(Photo by Linsight)
A trip to the farmers’ market can be a good or a very bad experience depending on what happens, especially during this time. It’s been a while since we have been able to go out with few worries, and while vaccines are on their way, large crowds may make us uneasy for some time to come. So, what does that mean for the naturally free-run spirit of the farmers' market?
Last year was a learning experience that was shrouded in confusion and uncertainty. We had no idea whether stronger restrictions would be implemented, and this meant that farmers had to follow the unpredictability. Many questions couldn’t be answered and this added unnecessary stress to an already overwhelming situation.
Adjustments have to be made in order to turn the farmers' market back into an experience that is as enjoyable, efficient, and, most importantly, as safe as possible. From start to finish, here are tips on how to safely navigate your way through the farmers' market.
These are suggestions for how to make the most of your market experience, but the best way to stay safe is to follow your community’s health standards and guidelines.
- Prep Yourself
It may seem ridiculous to have to mentally prepare for something that’s supposed to be a sociable, community-building experience. However, since life has been turned upside-down, some of our more enjoyable tasks have become stressful and exhausting. We can take the following steps to reduce the stress at the farmers’ market.
Eat something before going, and have a snack or drink ready for when you leave the market. On hot days while wearing the proper safety measures, it’s easy to become dehydrated. Be prepared; it’ll make all the difference.
Reassure yourself. You’re not the only one feeling the unease of being in public. With all the distancing and stress we’ve gone through, we’re rewiring our brains. Take a few deep breaths before going so you can be ready for whatever’s ahead.
Set realistic social expectations and goals for yourself. These don’t have to be extraordinary or time-consuming, but can be as simple as asking the vendors a question, giving a friendly wave, or offering an encouraging comment. It may not seem like much, but these small acts of kindness can brighten the vendor’s experience as well as yours. We’re all rebuilding our social comfort, and the smallest positive message can make the farmers' market experience a great one.
2. Get your Space Ready
You want to come home from a successful trip to the farmers' market, put your groceries away, and then relax for a bit. Coming home to a cluttered countertop, a filled sink, and a fridge that looks like a losing Tetris game could add unnecessary stress to the experience. Take a few minutes before heading out to tidy up and create clear spots to set down and clean your farm-fresh goods.
Having a non-porous surface to place the items is the best way to make sure any bacteria can be easily wiped away. Keep in mind, however, that abrasive cleaners can damage your countertops and, if not properly removed, can harm your food. Research non-toxic cleaning agents to see which ones can be most effective for your kitchen surfaces.
3. The Farmers’ Market Treasure Map
While part of the fun of the farmers' market is to look around at all of the colourful, homegrown products, there are now more options for customers to order their produce ahead of time. By picking up a pre-ordered selection, you can skip the browsing, claim your bounty, and be done --it’s quick, easy, and cuts down on possible exposure time.
If you can’t order ahead, help yourself and others out by setting a guideline or list for what you want to purchase. This can help everything work more smoothly and efficiently. Creating a meal plan for the upcoming week can be a great place to start. Identify what ingredients you’d like to buy or try in a recipe, and write down everything you want. Bonus points for including ingredients that are in season!
4. The Kid’s Game Plan
Normally, we love to see kids experiencing the fun and educational time at the farmers' market, but in times where we’re limiting exposure, many market organizers request that children stay home if possible. If it’s not possible to shop alone, here’s a fun tip for keeping your children, yourself and others safe while getting your shopping done.
If your children are young enough, try to use a stroller or wagon to make sure they stay close. This works best if they have snacks or toys, or can be a part of the purchasing experience. If your kids are old enough to help you out, create a game out of your farmers' market experience! For example, you could ask them to point out a fruit or vegetable that “Looks most like ___!” Looking for produce shaped like a bunny, duck or their favourite animal can be a fun game that keeps children occupied and entertained, while encouraging their creative thinking. Plus, you’re supporting the idea that great, healthy food doesn’t have to look commercially “perfect.”
5. Market Etiquette
Markets are doing their best to make your experience as safe as possible. Farmers are following the requirements asked of them and venues are enforcing health and safety precautions to make sure everyone is doing their part. The farmers' market operates similar to your local grocery store. This means distancing from each other in lines and walkways, following directional cues, and wearing a mask. The best way you can keep yourself and others safe is to follow these guidelines and be mindful of your surroundings.
It can be anxiety-inducing to feel rushed, but it’s important to make your farmers' market trip as efficient as possible. There is a limited capacity of shoppers at the farmers' market and to minimize impatient frustration, we have to do the “get in, get out” method. This doesn’t mean you have to skip the simple pleasantries, it just means avoiding the cloud gazing. If everyone has a set grocery list, the system will go a lot smoother. (But if something catches your eye, feel free to add to the list!)
Raincheck the Hug
Farmers’ markets are community-centred events where we see friends and neighbours who we've recently had to keep our distance from. While it may be tempting to shake hands or hug these people, remember that we’re all working together to be able to do so safely. This doesn’t mean you can’t catch up with the people you love. Scheduling and setting up virtual social gatherings is easier than ever so we don’t have to feel socially isolated. Hold out on the hug now to be able to hold them later.
The Classic Sip and Stride
While we all love grabbing that hot, fresh cup of apple cider to drink while we shop, we have to take a break from it for another year. Instead, if apple cider is being served, be prepared to bring a sealable thermos. Then you have a reward to drink on your way home after you’ve safely made your purchases.
6. Farmers’ Market to Fridge
As careful as everyone is trying to be, it’s still very easy for germs to collect on food in open, high-traffic areas. It’s important to take the proper precautions and keep you and your family safe.
Pandemic or not, cleaning your produce is a good habit. After the year we’ve had, there has been a lot of research into the best ways to clean your food. It starts with washing your hands with soap and water, then examining your produce for damage or bruising and cutting it off.
For produce, the consensus of the CDC and Health Canada is that the best washing method — even with the current safety precautions — is to rinse with tap water. For firmer produce, such as melons, you can also use a vegetable scrub brush. Using disinfectant wipes or bleach damages your produce and leaves toxic residues that can make you sick. Using running tap water to wash produce has been shown to have the same, or better, results than using vinegar, baking soda or produce wash. After rinsing, gently wipe produce with a clean towel or pat with a paper towel to remove any remaining particles.
Some foods may be damaged by washing or should be stored differently to maintain freshness. Proper cleaning measures vary from product to product. For more information on food storage and precautions, check out our article here.
Thank you for buying local
In 2020, we were shown how important it is to buy local and support our communities. For many farmers, the farmers' market is a huge opportunity to see for themselves the impact they have in their community and see the importance behind all of their hard work. The support we can offer them, especially during these uncertain times, starts with keeping everyone safe. Just because our worlds have been turned upside down, doesn’t mean we have to forget our roots.
Be kind, support local, and stay safe out there!