Farmers' markets are one of our favorite places to shop for local food, but can they provide a safe shopping experience right now? Here's what we found out.

The weather is warming and it is the beginning of farmers' market seasons in many parts of the US. In our new unique circumstances, it can be hard to know what is safe to enjoy and how to go about daily tasks in a safe way. We dove into what farmers and markets are doing to provide nutritious, tasty produce without putting their loyal customers at risk.

Is It Safe to Shop at Farmers' Markets Right Now?

Most farmers markets are staying open as essential services to their communities, but this may vary depending on where you live, so check your local market for updates. Many are making adaptations, so they can minimize human contact and safely get people the produce that helps them eat healthy. It's up to both shoppers and markets to do their part. In L.A., the mayor recently closed down markets because they were too crowded and was requiring a plan to be filed showing how they would maintain public safety before opening them back up.

At farms and markets across the country they are taking impressive steps to provide produce to their communities while keeping everyone safe and following social distancing recommendations. People are advised to stay home if they are feeling sick. Secondly, everyone is asked to comply with social distancing and not crowd together. Many markets are also working to ramp up non-cash payments to minimize contact and are asking that customers don't touch the produce, or only touch what they are going to buy. Some markets have even pivoted to taking pre-orders and doing drive-thru pickup to further reduce person-to-person contact. Local farms have converted to small online grocery stores and are taking orders and payment online, then dropping them off at your car without contact.

Photo of produce on a farmer's market booth
Credit: Getty Images/Itziar Aio

The best thing you can do is to look up your local market, most have a website or social media page with updates, to see what they're doing to keep their shoppers safe. Just like at the grocery store, your biggest risk of contracting COVID-19 is from other people. Wash your hands often, keep your distance from others, don't touch your face, stay home if you're sick and minimize what you touch at the market. The CDC also now recommends wearing a cloth mask when you go out in public.

According to the FDA, there's no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted through food or food packaging. They are recommending you practice general food safety guidelines—wash your hands before and after handling food, and before you eat. Clean and disinfect surfaces in your kitchen frequently. And wash your produce with water—not soap or cleaning chemicals, as they can make you sick if you ingest them.

Ways to Support Farmers in Your Area While Staying Safe

Here are a few ways you can support farmers and markets near you, while keeping yourself and the vendors safe.

Have a Plan & Call Ahead

Make a list of what you need in advance of your trip and call ahead to check out how your farmers' market is managing the flow of food. This will also help you shop quickly and efficiently to minimize your exposure to others. Some markets are even requiring patrons to call and place their orders ahead of time for a drive-thru farmers' market experience.

Shop Solo

Even if you split your produce haul with others, only have one person shop to minimize crowds. You can divide up the food at home to distribute. Keep your distance, at least six feet to be specific, from other shoppers, staff and vendors. If you are unsure how far six feet is and it is not marked, err on the side of caution to be respectful of yourself and others. Also, be conscious as not to crowd any vendor's booths.

Don't Touch

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Let farmers serve you, and don't touch any food without being directed to. Staff will have gloves and the appropriate personal protective equipment to handle food, so leave it to them.

Skip Cash

Farmers' markets, like many other business, are opting for cashless transactions to minimize contact from consumer to vendor and vice versa. Skip the dollars and cents next time to you hit the market, and choose to use your card, for your safety and theirs.

Be Flexible

This is the time to take care of those in your community, especially the businesses you enjoy that are struggling. Especially in areas without a year-round growing season, being unable to sell at a farmers' market can be devastating for some growers. Also, say thank you to those working diligently to get you the products you love and keep their business afloat. It is a challenging time for everyone and our hats should be off to any operations that are able to adapt to safely provide an enjoyable service to others.

Bottom Line

You can stay safe while still enjoying the bounty of fresh produce spring brings to your local farmers' markets. These tips can help us support the farms and farmers in our community through this difficult time. Not to mention, farm-fresh produce is still delicious and healthy even during a pandemic. Stay informed and check out the website or call your farmers' market of choice before your trip so you understand their updated processes.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.