Farmers markets across B.C. are now only allowed to sell food due to the ongoing effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.
That means vendors of non-food items and other merchandise aren't allowed.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province's chief health officer, made the announcement at a March 27 morning press conference.
“I'm issuing the following order — all episodic vending markets, what we know as farmers markets or community markets, must only allow vendors that serve food to be sold at these events. So vendors of all other merchandise at these events are prohibited,” Henry said.
“This is a recognition of how important it is for us to be able to access locally grown and produced food. The farmers' markets are an important part of that but we don't want them to be areas where people are going and mingling in large groups because of the risk, right now, that that entails.”
Henry said the Ministry of Agriculture is also working with the B.C. Association of Farmers Markets to ensure there are online models to distribute farmers' fresh fruit and produce.
Farmers markets appeared on the essential services list the provincial government released March 26.
Heather O’Hara, executive director of the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) told the Courier in a March 27 email that the organization is working very closely with B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health.
“BCAFM is both informing, and being informed by in collaboration with these agencies. In other words, we are very much in the loop on what is being communicated and updated with regards to our member farmers markets and modifications to their markets,” she wrote.
The BCCDC website, which is regularly updated, explains what’s currently being sold at farmers’ markets. It can be found HERE.
“We agree and member markets are operating under this guidance,” O’Hara said.
She added that BCAFM member markets have already, and will continue to, modify operations in response to coronavirus.
“We update our website regularly as things evolve,” she said. Those updates can be found HERE.
Jen Candela, communications manager for Vancouver Farmers Markets, told the Courier in an email that Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the City of Vancouver and the park board have approved markets to operate this week with all the social distancing and safety protocols in place. They can be found HERE.
The markets run at Riley and Hastings Park. She said Vancouver markets have already been adapting to health concerns around coronavirus and, over the past two weeks, only food items have been permitted — no crafts, which are typically sold at summer markets anyway. Food made in home kitchens also haven't been allowed, as per VCH regulations, nor have food trucks.
Candela said they're re-evaluating whether food trucks should be permitted since they are still allowed on city streets.
One of the main goals, however, is to discourage people from using farmers' markets as a gathering place.
"What we're trying to tell the public right now is that we're not a social gathering. We're not functioning as a social gathering [place] right now. We are functioning as an essential service, as an access point for fresh food," she said.
Park rangers have been at the markets to ensure people are following social distancing policies that direct individuals to stay two metres apart.This weekend, Candela said there will be additional signs and staff at the sites to emphasize and enforce those requirements.