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March 11th, 2020

Farmers Markets & the Novel Coronavirus: Updates

UPDATE: 4/17/2020

The Maryland Department of Agriculture issued additional guidelines for farmers markets and updated FAQs along with the following important reminder:

On April 15, 2020, Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order requiring all Marylanders to wear masks or face coverings at retail establishments, including farmers markets, and on public transportation. This order also requires all staff at retail establishments, and thus farmers markets, to wear masks or face coverings and to implement appropriate physical distancing practices. This order is effective as of Saturday, April 18, 2020 at 7 a.m.

UPDATE: 4/8/2020

Yesterday, the Maryland Department of Agriculture issued FAQS for Farmers Market Managers and Vendors during COVID-19 State of Emergency to help farmers markets that remain opening during the pandemic.

UPDATE: 3/24/2020

Yesterday, Governor Hogan ordered the closure of nonessential businesses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Please note that farmers markets are considered an essential business and may remain open. To learn more, please see the Governor’s Interpretive Guide to the executive order. On page two, farmers markets are listed as part of the Food and Agriculture Sector, alongside grocery stores and farms.

UPDATED: 3/19/2020

Maryland Department of Agriculture issued a press release entitled “Farmers Markets Should Continue Operations During State of Emergency.” You can read the full release here or pasted below.

ANNAPOLIS, MD—The Maryland Department of Agriculture considers farmers markets an essential business and an important source of food for many Marylanders. The department is asking that farmers markets remain open during the current state of emergency.

“Farmers markets play a critical role in providing fresh, nutritious and locally-produced food products to customers across the state—especially those Marylanders who live in food deserts and those who rely on SNAP benefits to access fresh produce,” said Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “It is important that we keep that supply line open while making sure we implement the same preventative measures used in grocery stores and other essential retail businesses.”

In response to the state’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, markets are urged to make necessary adjustments to promote social distancing; increase access to hand sanitizer/washing stations for staff, vendors and patrons; regularly sanitize any touch surfaces; and consider any operational changes that may reduce the opportunity for infection. More information on prevention is available from the Maryland Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information on the state’s response to COVID-19, please visit

UPDATED: 3/19/2020

There has been ongoing confusion about the status of farmers markets in Maryland in relation to the prohibition of public gatherings. The Maryland Department of Agriculture sent out this email (see below) to stakeholders today and makes it very clear that farmers markets (bullet point five below) are exempt.

The key sentences read:
“To clarify, the governor’s current order to suspend operations applies only to bars, dine-in restaurants and other non-essential retail locations. All other businesses, especially food-related businesses, are encouraged to continue operating within the parameters and protocols (large gatherings, social distancing, etc.) recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maryland Department of Health.”

March 19, 2020

Dear Stakeholder,

As the State of Maryland continues its unprecedented response to COVID-19, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is emphasizing the need for businesses involved in the state’s food supply chain to continue production. As a key stakeholder, we are asking for your assistance in delivering this message to your customers, employees and related supply chain partners.

Reliable access to food is a human right and it is critical that our food supply chain maintain – and even be prepared to expand  – operations throughout this state of emergency. Any business involved in food distribution, production, processing, sales and supply will be considered essential, including, but not limited to:

  • Agricultural equipment sales and service
  • Agricultural supply businesses
  • Animal feed supply and distribution
  • Farms
  • Farmers markets and food banks
  • Feed mills
  • Food and meat processors and manufacturers, including bakeries, etc.
  • Food safety laboratories and inspectors
  • Greenhouses and nurseries
  • Grocery delivery services
  • Pet food manufacturers and distributors
  • Retailers, including grocery stores
  • Seafood industry (crabbers, watermen, processors, etc.)
  • Transportation, distribution and suppliers
  • Veterinary services and supplies

As essential businesses, we are asking you to remain open and operational – normally and safely – until or unless directed otherwise. Develop procedures for safe operation of your facility or farm and post those procedures for the benefit of your employees and the broader public. To clarify, the governor’s current order to suspend operations applies only to bars, dine-in restaurants and other non-essential retail locations. All other businesses, especially food-related businesses, are encouraged to continue operating within the parameters and protocols (large gatherings, social distancing, etc.) recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maryland Department of Health.

We understand that there are a number of challenges facing businesses right now. Please keep the Maryland Department of Agriculture informed of any regulatory/statutory challenge or hurdle that may impede production, processing or sales so we can address it accordingly and promptly.

On behalf of the Hogan-Rutherford administration, we appreciate your support and patience as we continue to navigate this constantly-evolving situation with as few disruptions to food production and processing. Thank you for all that you do to ensure Marylanders continue to have access to a safe, reliable food source.

We will post any updates on FacebookTwitter and the MDA website. If you have specific questions, please contact [email protected].


Joe Bartenfelder



UPDATED 3/13/2020

Governor Hogan’s executive order prohibiting gatherings of 250+ people does not apply to farmers markets.

Additionally, Maryland Department of Agriculture has issued the following statement:

In light of Governor Larry Hogan’s recent actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is directing farmers markets to make their own decisions on whether to remain open or suspend activity on a case-by-case basis. MDA understands that farmers markets are an important source of nutrition for many Marylanders, including those located in food deserts and individuals relying on SNAP benefits. If your market is planning to remain open, we urge you to provide ample access to hand sanitizer/handwashing stations and have a plan in place to promote social distancing among patrons and vendors.

If you decide to run your market, MDFMA encourages you to take preventative, protective measures and adhere to CDC guidelines – social distancing, limited interaction, adding hand washing/hand sanitizer stations when possible. We also ask that you contact your local health departments and heed to your department’s advice.

Please tag us in social media posts about your farmers market, we will share!

UPDATED 3/11/2020

Farmers markets play a vital role as community gathering places, as food access points for shoppers, and as direct marketing platforms for farmers. As the number of positive novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 cases grows, farmers market managers, shoppers, and farmers are asking questions about how to keep markets safe for everyone. 

Farmers Market Coalition has compiled information and advice from farmers markets, state associations, health departments, and the Centers for Disease Control, and we encourage everyone with questions and concerns about market safety and coronavirus to start by reading FMC’s blog post

The CDC guidelines for staying healthy during the novel coronavirus crisis also apply to visiting the farmers market. These steps apply to vendors, managers, and shoppers: 

  • Follow simple CDC rules for washing hands and not touching your face. 
  • If you sneeze or cough, do so into a tissue or your elbow. 
  • Wash all produce thoroughly before eating it. 
  • If you are feeling sick, stay home. 
  • Are you a senior citizen or considered at a higher risk for contracting coronavirus? If you sell at a crowded market, please find somebody else to sell on your behalf. If you shop at a market that tends to be crowded, arrive early before the crowds form or consider skipping the market altogether. If you can’t bear missing out on the season’s first asparagus or strawberries, ask a friend to shop for you. Another way to enjoy local foods direct from the farm is to join a CSA. 

For market managers, MDFMA makes the following recommendations:

  • Stay in touch with your local health department authorities and stay on top of the local news. If your municipality recommends suspending large gatherings, you may need to cancel your market. Have a plan in place for how you will let vendors and shoppers know. 
  • The Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association has suspended all product sampling at its 30+ markets. MDFMA recommends that Maryland markets suspend all self-serve sampling setups and only offer samples upon request in an individual tasting cup. We also recommend that markets suspend cooking demos where samples are offered. 
  • Reduce or suspend penalties for last-minute vendor cancellations.
  • Require that market staff handling money and tokens wear gloves and avoid touching their exposed skin or any food with the gloves.
  • Instruct market staff to have shoppers bag their purchases themselves. 
  • Remind vendors of handwashing procedures and ask that they wash their hands periodically throughout the day and/or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
  • If possible, offer extra handwashing stations throughout the market. You can rent portable handwashing units from an event or a portable toilet rental company. You can also purchase these from catering supply companies.

Have questions or suggestions about farmers markets and the novel coronavirus crisis? Let us know.


Posted in — Coronavirus, farmers market, farmers markets, Safety Written by — jglass
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