CHESTERTOWN — Getting pushback from the public after voting last week to close the farmers market in Fountain Park until May 15, the Chestertown Mayor and Council will revisit the issue at its next regularly scheduled meeting Monday, April 6.
“This will give us time to see how the spread of this virus plays out, and to see if Governor Hogan will be implementing further restrictions on movement,” Mayor Chris Cerino said in a Facebook post.
The town took the action last week as a way to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and in accordance with Hogan's restrictions on social gatherings.
Officials on April 6 will discuss possible ways to reopen the market to food vendors only, Cerino said. The market will remain closed to artisans until at least May 15.
Julia King, who came on board as the Chestertown farmers market manager last October, said other markets in the area are scheduled to open in the next few weeks.
Kent Island has moved its market to a parking lot in Stevensville because the church where it is located has been shuttered temporarily.
The farmers market in Easton, which comes under the auspices of the Avalon Foundation, has delayed its opening until April 25. Any announcement to the contrary will be made by April 10, according to a news release.
King said she supports a cautious approach.
“I completely understand the council's decision to close. They were working in the best interest of public health. As Chestertown has an older population, the top priority remains to keep them healthy and safe,” King wrote in an email Tuesday, March 24.
But King, and others, point to the Maryland Department of Agriculture's request last week that farmers markets — deemed “essential retail businesses” — remain open during the 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. 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,” Secretary Joe Bartenfelder said in a March 19 post on the MDA website.
In a letter to the Kent County News, Betterton resident Kim Kohl said keeping the market open can be a “win-win” for farmers and producers.
"There are many of us that rely on our local farmers year round, eating only locally grown foods for reasons ranging from health to sustainability. And there are many local farm families for which our market is their primary source of income,” Kohl wrote.
She added: “Produce in a grocery store chain travels on average 1,500 miles from farm to table, and has been handled more times than one would like to count. Meats travel even farther. In contrast, our locally grown produce and meats travel a fraction of the distance. And, our market takes place in open air with space to move away from others.”
In response to Maryland's efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Bartenfelder has urged markets 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.
King said ever since she was notified of the council's decision to shut down the market until mid-May, she has been compiling reasons to keep it open.
“Since the closing, numerous people and committees have stepped up, offering solutions and have made it known that that they would love to see the market continue in some form whether that be a modified market or a an online version. The support from the community has been amazing and I will never be able to thank them enough for all their creative ideas,” she wrote in Tuesday's email.
Suggestions include: social distancing of 6 feet apart for vendors and customers; hand washing stations set set up around the market area; requiring vendors to wear gloves, pre-bag their items and have hand sanitizer available; prohibit customers from touching the food; and strongly encouraging customers to pay by credit card.
There also has been discussion on social media about an online delivery platform, but King said she has limited information at this time.