SALT LAKE CITY — The summer tradition of the farmers market will happen this year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner Logan Wilde told FOX 13 in a recent interview that they are an essential part of the state's food supply. But they are trying to reimagine how they work.
"Farmers markets are grocery stores to our local communities. If those safety structures and safety nets can be put in place, whether it’s social distancing, making sure the food is safe, they’ll still go forth," he said.
In addition to a source of summer fun, for some they are an essential lifeline to quality produce. Federal food assistance programs utilize the markets, and for some farmers, they're the sole source of income.
Urban Food Connections of Utah, the non-profit organization that stages the popular market at Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City, said it has been reinventing this year's market.
"The farmers markets are still happening. They just look different. Our plan for the Downtown Farmers Market is to really cut it down in size," Alison Einerson, the executive director of the market, told FOX 13. "There will not be an art and craft element. It really will be a place to go for essential food. So prioritizing produce, locally ranched meats, eggs, honey, dairy, bread, stuff you would go to the grocery store for."
The weekly event, which draws hundreds, will not be the same.
"It’s going to look different. It’s going to be social distancing, it’s going to be cashless transactions, it’s going to be controlling how many people are on site at a time," Einerson said. "We won’t have a prepared food area or seating. It’s not going to be the festival fun we’ve had in the past which is sad, but we have to get through it the best way we can."
Einerson said they will also be limiting hours for the market and enforcing cashless transactions using services like Apple Pay or Venmo.
"Some of my old, more curmudgeonly farmers don’t care to, but they're going to have to," she said. "For their own safety and the safety of their customers."
Urban Food Connections of Utah is also trying to raise money to keep going. In addition to COVID-19, the recent earthquake forced the non-profit to shutter its winter farmers market.
Coronavirus has impacted Utah's agriculture sector, too. Wilde said Utah's Department of Agriculture and Food is implementing new regulations to help farmers and ranchers get their products to the public now that restaurants have closed.
"The food supply is safe. We are doing our very best to make sure it’s safe and there’s plenty of food right now," he said.
He said farmers and ranchers have not seen their lives disrupted quite to the level of others in the pandemic.
"In a lot of areas, farming is naturally social distancing. In areas of food production, that has become a concern," Wilde said.
The agency is concerned about labor shortages because of the pandemic. Seasonal workers who come in from other countries might not be able to now.
"Maybe we’ll have to have people come out of our society and help with food production this year," Wilde said. "Whether it’s students that are coming out of high school that aren’t working right now, or college students or something to get out and get away from people and make sure we have plenty of food this year."