URBANA, Ill. - With winter farmers markets in full swing, the March 20 executive order by Gov. Pritzker requiring individuals to stay at home has market managers wondering if they can stay open. The order considers agriculture an essential business, paving the way for growers and farmers markets to remain open at the time of this writing.

“All first responders, emergency management personnel, law enforcement personnel, health care workers and others working to support essential businesses and essential government functions, like grocery stores and pharmacies are exempt from this stay at home order,” the order indicates. Agricultural operations currently allowed include “food and beverage manufacturing, production, processing, and cultivation, including farming,” and includes “cultivation, marketing, production, and distribution of animals and good for consumption,” the order further indicates.

Travel to and from food production areas and marketplaces may occur. Congregation of employees and customers must be done in accordance with social distancing requirement of six feet, and market vendors and managers may need to revamp current food safety rules and regulations to comply fully.

What vendors should consider

  • As in all cases, employees should be healthy if they are at work.
  • Clean and sanitize your booth and equipment on a regular basis throughout the market day. Cleaning means using soap and water and sanitizing means using a product labeled for sanitizing which can be used on food contact surfaces. Guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency are available. When in doubt, confirm that the labeling of the sanitizer is appropriate for use on food contact surfaces.
  • Follow any guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health about product sampling. Although no final decision on product sampling has been made at the time of this writing, markets may wish to discontinue the practice.  
  • Have a hand washing station at your booth, and instruct all workers to use it on a regular basis
  • Minimize the number of times the produce is touched, from on-farm harvest through market sales. 
  • Designate a worker that is only responsible for taking money and require them to wear gloves for all transactions.
  • Have all workers use disposable gloves when working with fresh produce and instruct them on how often to change gloves throughout the day.
  • Do not allow the customer to pick up produce to test for ripeness or smell before buying.
  • Growers may want to pre-bag produce prior to opening and explain to customers that this is for their own safety.
  • Remind customers to wash the produce when they get home.

What managers should consider

  • Practice social distancing. Extend the distances between the market booths and avoid shaking hands or any other physical contact.
  • Follow any guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health about product sampling as previously discussed.
  • Have hand washing stations throughout the market for the public to use and post signs reminding patrons to use soap and water for 20 seconds before rinsing and drying with a single-use paper towel.
  • Limit or restrict animal access into the market.
  • Temporarily eliminate seating areas within the marketplace to promote social distancing.
  • Initiate customer educational programs through your market website, social media sites, and newsletters and advise people not to attend the market if they are ill.
  • Have a sign prominently displayed at the market entrance or at each vendor booth promoting social distancing of at least six feet in public spaces.  

University of Illinois Extension Educators Local Food Systems and Small Farms

Laurie George
Zach Grant
James Theuri