Chatham County Farmers’ Markets open 2020 season with new social distancing policies

By Debbie Roos

Pittsboro, NC – Early April is always a celebratory time in Chatham County because it marks the return of all three of our farmers’ markets! We are fortunate that the Thursday Pittsboro Farmers’ Market is open year-round, providing access to produce, flowers, meat and dairy, baked goods, and more throughout the year. But spring heralds the return of our other two beloved markets: the Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market opened its 2020 season on Saturday April 4, and the Fearrington Farmers’ Market opened on Tuesday April 7.

It wouldn’t be spring without our farmers’ markets opening, but of course nothing about this spring is business-as-usual. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended everyone’s world and we are all adjusting to the drastic changes imposed upon our lives. North Carolina residents have been ordered to stay at home except when seeking food, medicine, or other essentials or working certain jobs. Most area farmers’ markets have remained open because they serve an essential role in our food system. I have even noticed that some people who don’t normally shop at farmers’ markets are discovering that they are able to find certain food items (locally grown!) at the farmers’ markets that they cannot find in the grocery stores.

Our farmers’ markets have been working extremely hard to overhaul their market strategies to keep vendors and customers safe. The Carrboro Farmers’ Market pioneered these efforts in our region, implementing social distancing and hygiene practices to spread everyone out and reduce contact. You can read about their policies and view photos in an article I wrote a few weeks ago.

All the Chatham County farmers’ markets implemented the following practices:

  • Spacing between vendors was increased to allow customers to spread out
  • Customers were asked to maintain a space of at least six feet between themselves and another person, and only one person at a time was allowed in the booth space
  • Many vendors encouraged their customers to pre-order and pre-pay to reduce time spent at the booth and avoid money handling; it also prevents that crush of people at the opening bell when people crowd in to get first dibs on their favorite products – if you pre-order, you can come at any time during the market hours to pick up your purchases
  • Customers were not allowed to touch items on the table but asked to point to what they wanted
  • Sampling of vendor products was suspended
  • Market vendors wore gloves and designated one person to handle money only and another to handle product
  • Vendors and customers were encouraged to wear face coverings/masks
  • Each market communicated these policies and directives clearly (and repeatedly) in their emailed newsletters, websites, and through signage at the market
  • All three markets added a special section on their website devoted to COVID-19

We are fortunate in Chatham County that our farmers’ market sites have enough space to allow vendors to spread out. At the Fearrington Farmers’ Market, customers could download a map on the market website to see where their favorite vendors would be since they were not in their usual location.

Personally I am grateful that I am able to shop at our local farmers’ markets during this pandemic, and feel safer going there than to the grocery store because it is outside and much less crowded and I feel like all of these new policies make a difference. All of the markets have worked overtime to implement these policies in a short amount of time and communicate with customers.

Chatham County Farmers’ Markets:

Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market

  • Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon at Chatham Mills in Pittsboro
  • Address: 480 Hillsboro St. Pittsboro, NC 27312

Fearrington Farmers’ Market

  • Tuesdays, 4–6 p.m. in Fearrington Village
  • Address: E. Camden, Fearrington, NC 27312

Pittsboro Farmers’ Market

  • Thursdays, 3–6 p.m. at Main Street Station in Pittsboro
  • Address: 287 East St., Pittsboro, NC 27312

Debbie Roos is a NC Extension Agent, Agriculture – Sustainable / Organic Production