CORONAVIRUS

Farmers markets exempt from ban on large gatherings, Reynolds says

Crowds fill Second Ave SE during 2018's first Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market. (The Gazette)
Crowds fill Second Ave SE during 2018’s first Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market. (The Gazette)
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Iowa farmers markets will be allowed to open, despite a ban on large gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, under an order Gov. Kim Reynolds issued Friday.

However, they will have some social-distancing restrictions, including allowing only one family member attend.

The order states markets may have only vendors who sell farm products or food. The governor’s communications director, Pat Garrett, said in an email that includes all types of food, including prepared hot food and baked goods.

Vendors selling other goods and services will not be permitted.

“This is food, this is people’s sustenance,” Iowa Farmers’ Market Association board member Bob Shepherd told The Gazette. “It’s quality produce, produce that has only been touched by the grower.

“You take it home, and your hands and the grower’s hands are the only ones that have touched it. It’s locally grown, it hasn’t traveled thousands of miles. You know where it’s coming from, exactly.”

Last year, the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market drew an estimated 14,000 visitors on a typical weekend, with around 200 vendors spread over several downtown blocks.

Many of those vendors sell non-food items such as crafts, jewelry and clothing. The market typically also includes entertainment such as live music.

Those would not be allowed under the new rules.

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Musical performances, children’s activities, contests and other entertainment, and activities organized by the farmers market or vendors also will be prohibited.

In addition, markets must eliminate all common seating areas, picnic tables and dining areas, and prohibit vendors from having seating where people can congregate or eat on the premises.

All vendor booths or assigned parking areas must be six feet apart from each other.

Eastern Iowa farmers market managers have some time to figure out how to accommodate the restrictions. Most markets in the Corridor already had pushed back start dates until at least the beginning of June.

The Downtown Cedar Rapids Farmers Market, for example, already was delayed until June 6. Ellen Bardsley, interim communications director for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said in an email the organization still is reviewing the guidelines to determine next steps for the 2020 season, including for its evening Downtown Farmers Market.

Iowa City went farther, pushing its downtown farmers market start date to July 4, but adding an online shopping with curbside pickup option beginning May 9.

At her daily news briefing Friday, Reynolds said she believed farmers markets could be safe.

“I believe in Iowans and their ability to be responsible, and so I don’t anticipate any problems,” she said.

The governor’s order also states markets should “implement reasonable measures under the circumstances of each market to ensure social distancing of vendors and customers, increased hygiene practices and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 at farmers markets consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.”

Customers also are encouraged to engage in social distancing, wear a mask or other protective face covering if unable to maintain a distance of six feet, practice good hygiene and attend the market alone without other family members.

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Shepherd said the Iowa Farmers’ Market Association has sent out safety guidance to members and is continuing to collect recommendations from the national Farmers Market Association.

He said that while Iowa’s summer market season hasn’t started yet, many states with warmer climates have had markets going throughout closures and stay-at-home orders, so they are looking to what is working elsewhere.

“This is a whole new world. We’re looking for best practices, for the safest methods,” he said.

For smaller markets that don’t attract the kinds of crowds the Downtown Cedar Rapids market does, implementing the changes could be easier, said Shepherd, who also market manager for the Washington market.

“We’ve always worried about being a small market, but now we’re kind of at an advantage. We can have better control,” he said.

Mike Carolan, Marion parks director, said the new guidelines might mean his market — which had been delayed until June — could start in May after all, depending on feedback from vendors.

“Putting the required protocols in place won’t be much of an issue for us,” he said. “It really helped to get some guidance from the state on this.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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