CEDAR CITY — While many businesses, including grocery stores, have been deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, the question remains whether consumers will be able to purchase their food from seasonal farmers markets. While the year-round market in Cedar City is still operating, two upcoming farmers markets in St. George have been put on hold.
Kat Puzey, executive director of the Modern Farm and Artisan Co-Op, told Cedar City News that the city of St. George considers farmers markets to be “special events,” and the city is not currently issuing special event permits as a precaution against the coronavirus. However, she said, this has left both agricultural producers and consumers without the resources from the markets.
The co-op operates two farmers markets in St George: one in Ancestor Square on Saturday mornings from May to October and another in West Village on Wednesday afternoons once a month.
“The city is being very precautious,” Puzey said. “They are really trying to prevent the spread — which we understand and we support.”
Puzey said she is working to move the market online and hopes to help vendors process and deliver orders.
“We’ll be partnering with all our local farmers and bakeries that usually come to the market.”
Puzey said other markets throughout the state are staying open – including in Cedar City – while taking precautionary measures, such as wearing gloves and masks, maintaining social distancing, only permitting essential vendors, keeping food covered and only allowing a small number of consumers at once. Some markets have also stopped accepting cash.
“These are all the guidelines that we’re willing to follow to have a farmers market here and have that option for the community,” she said, “but the city is really worried about it, so we’re not making any progress on the live events.”
Puzey said that although she understands the city’s caution, she feels the markets are essential because people need access to food that can sometimes only be provided at the markets.
“A lot of the stores, they’re running out of WIC products. They’re running out of all of those food stamp-approved items, and we carry them,” she said. “It’s hard because we are a necessity – we are an emergency food source – but we still are an event, so even if we monitor the numbers it still puts the city at risk. I can kind of understand where they’re coming from, but I just think the need outweighs what’s happening right now.”
Another benefit to the markets, Puzey said, is that locally produced foods can be safer than what consumers can purchase in grocery stores.
“There’s 100 to 300 people in your food chain by the time you’re buying something from a grocery store,” she said. “Here it is from a farmer – who usually self-isolates anyway because they’re so busy they don’t leave the farm – and then it would go to us, then you. So as long as we kept it clean and they kept their normal way of living, it’s two people between you and your food.”
From an economic standpoint, the farmers market provides an important service for agricultural producers, since the markets provide the go-between for farmers and the community. This is a service the farmers simply don’t have time to do themselves, Puzey said.
“Expecting them to, on top of farming, market on their own, build their own customer base, launch their own website and find their own following — that is a lot to ask them to do,” she said. “A lot of these farmers have always relied on the farmers market because we do have a big following and our job is to market them.”
Robert Bronner of Cherith Brook Farms in Enterprise said his business was designed around selling through the farmers markets.
“It’s a lot harder to market and find customers and sell the product when you don’t have a place that you can go to sell,” he said. “We had planned our business around the farmers market. … We’re taking a big hit and trying to change the entire marketing strategy of the business. We honestly can’t survive on just phone calls. We need a way to sell, otherwise we’ll be out of business.”
Bronner produces grass-fed lamb and goats and pasture pork and poultry. He said he still hopes for the market to be open at least part of the summer.
“To go about life as we did before will take a while, we understand and we know that,” he said. “We haven’t given up hope that we’re going to have a market at least for part of the summer season, so we’re looking forward to that.”
Bronner added that the local farmers and ranchers have an important role in the community.
“We can get through problems like this much better if we support our local agriculture, regardless of what it is,” he said. “It’s always better for us, and it’s always better for the farmers. We are going to get through this. We are going to get out of this. We go forward with hope for the future, and things will get better again.”
Kassidy Skouson, the manager of the Downtown Year Round Farmers Market in Cedar City, said the market is still being held every Saturday just off the southwest corner of Main Street and Center Street behind IG Winery.
Cedar City Recorder Renon Savage said the city is still issuing event permits but added that they really haven’t had anyone asking for one. However, since the downtown market is considered a business, Savage said, they don’t need an event permit, nor will the other seasonal markets in Cedar City.
Skouson said as far as the downtown year-round market, they are still proceeding “as normal as possible.”
“We realize the situation at hand, but we also want people to realize that we’re still happy to see them,” she said. “We want everyone to feel comfortable at the market, so each vendor is doing what they can to provide comfort for the customer.”
Skouson said the market consistently hosts approximately six vendors, but booths are kept separated, and the market is in an outdoor setting. She added that keeping the market open is important and so is maintaining support for local producers and businesses.
“It’s pretty crucial because if stores stop selling stuff, then people can come to the market,” she said. “I would say that Cedar is actually doing very well. They’re doing as much as they can to support the local restaurants and businesses.”
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