Apr 5, 2020
Continuing produce sales with COVID-19

Demand for fresh local produce and other farm products is on the increase. Currently, for growers that sell directly to the public, COVID-19 presents some challenges to meet that demand.

Farmers’ markets in Delaware are not to open until after May 15. Throughout the region stay-at-home orders are in-place; however, shopping for food is considered an essential activity.

Farm retail stores and produce stands, community supported agriculture farms, U-pick farms, and farmers markets (once they open) all must consider how to implement guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Health Departments (Delaware Health and Social Services) to stem the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease. COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplet dispersal when those carrying the virus cough or sneeze. The virus then may be transmitted to the mouth or nose of nearby people or may be inhaled into the lungs. A physical distance of 6 or more feet can reduce this transmission as larger droplets continuing the virus fall out of the air. Close contact (such as shaking hands) is also involved in transmission, which is why physical distancing is critical and is working to reduce spread of the disease. If you have been close to another person of unknown health status it is important to avoid contact with your face as you may inadvertently bring the virus up to your face.

For direct marketers, distancing is the first line of defense. In a farm store or stand, limit the number of people that can be in the store and stand area and take precautions to distance cashiers. For CSA’s create distances when produce is picked up. In U-pick, have customers separate by at least 6 feet. In farmer’s markets vendors should be distanced from buyers.

According the CDC, on the topic of spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects: “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

While surface to person spread is less likely, a second line of defense is to more frequently sanitize surfaces. First concentrate on those surfaces frequently touched by customers such as door handles, cart handles, or payment devices. Continue sanitary practices for produce food safety throughout sales areas that include a disinfecting step during cleaning and increase the frequency of cleaning, especially in “high touch” areas. At this time, there is no evidence of surface transmission, including money or credit cards; however, cashless or distancing measures during payment should be considered.

A third line of defense is to have good handwashing facilities, to train employees on handwashing and to require frequent handwashing. Customers should be encouraged to wash hands if practical, and in lieu of handwashing access to use hand sanitizer that you have placed at entrances. Signs on how to properly wash hands or use hand sanitizer should be in place.

A fourth line of defense is to keep those that are sick with COVID-19 from the packing and sales areas. Monitor family members and employees for illness. The main symptoms of the disease are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If these symptoms are present, employees should stay home. Signs should be placed at entrances telling customers with these symptoms not to enter. Unfortunately, many of those carrying the virus are asymptomatic or in early stages of the disease but are still infectious. That is why the distancing, sanitation, and handwashing guidelines should be in place.

Stay home if sick signage

At this time, use of masks and gloves are not recommended if following the above guidelines. Masks do not protect you from the virus unless they are properly fitted and of the proper type (N95). However, these guidelines are under review as customer use of simple masking may reduce spread to salespersons. If gloves are used, they need to be disposed of after every customer direct interaction, after which hands need to be washed again and then new gloves put on.

Some thoughts on how to continue sales from the marketing side

  • Inform your customers through email, social media, signage, or advertising that you are open for business
  • Inform customers of any changes you are making due to COVID-19
  • Consider cashless transactions such as prepaying for orders using internet services. The National Young Farmers Coalition has put together a resource on direct sales software. It can be found through the Future Harvest Website at: https://www.futureharvestcasa.org/resources/covid-19-resources-farmers?mc_cid=251078f0cb&mc_eid=283050aade
  • Consider listing with the Find A Farmer or Market Directory Map through the Future Harvest website above.
  • Consider drive through service, delivery, or drop off service (with distancing).
  • Consider eliminating self-serve and do prepackaging

A good COVID-19 resource for direct marketers from Rutgers University can be found at this site: https://onfarmfoodsafety.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Best-Practices-Direct-Market-Sales-3.25.20.pdf

– Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist, University of Delaware


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