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Vermont farmers markets face new rules to reopen

(WCAX)
Published: May. 1, 2020 at 6:40 AM EDT
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Farmers markets in Vermont can now open but they must follow new Agriculture Agency guidelines. And for some markets, those new rules might be so tough that they can't reopen. Our Elissa Borden looks at the struggle farmers markets face.

In just over a month, the 40th season of the Burlington Farmers Market will begin on Pine Street. But when this year's market starts up on June 6, it's going to look far different than it ever has.

"We're going from like, 0 to 1,000. Immediately, a June opening, we know people want to get out of their houses, they want to support local, and so it's going to be a lot of new protocols," said Mieko Ozeki of the Burlington Farmers Market.

The guidelines have much to say. While they may only be temporarily in place for this summer, markets now must plan to operate under these rules.

That includes vendors kept 12 feet apart, one-way walkways, discouraging in-person shopping and no crafts-- eliminating 30% of their vendors right off the bat.

"We immediately went into action and had to kind of give a gut-punch kind of news to our crafters that their season was not going to happen," Ozeki said.

Moe O'Hara has been a Burlington Farmers Market vendor for 10 years. She found out about a month ago that she wouldn't be able to sell her Recycle Moe products.

"Fifty, sixty-percent of my income is with the Burlington Farmers Market," O'Hara said. "There's so many tourists coming through and so many local people that want to support the local craft scene and local arts."

The Agriculture Agency in Vermont says that's because farmers markets are now a food distribution site only, rather than a social outing, like in the past.

"So because farms were deemed essential, they're still open for business. The idea is to just not encourage larger gatherings of people at farmers markets than is absolutely necessary," explained Abbey Willard of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

But vendors help farmers markets pay the bills. In Burlington, 90% of the money to operate comes from vendor space fees.

That's why the Burlington Farmers Market is fundraising this year to help get the market up and running. They're asking for $10,000 to help cover costs. And that is in addition to loans they've already taken out.

"I can imagine that markets are going to have to make tough decisions as to whether it's economical for them to operate," Willard said. "I'm hopeful that with state and federal resources, as well as philanthropic investments, that we can do our best to highlight the importance that farmers markets critically play in our communities."

But right now, these community resources are critically in need of cash.

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