Following guidelines established by the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (RNJAES), many, but not all, farmers markets in Central Jersey have opened for the season, providing an added benefit to shoppers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Alex Sawatzky, manager of Cook’s Market at Rutgers Gardens, the increased strain on the national food supply chain is not an issue for customers of local farmers. “Food-processing facilities, such as meat-packing plants, are being shut down because of COVID-19 outbreaks,” he says.
“Because we have a very vulnerable food system, these localized food systems are become more self-reliant and adaptive — and we’re seeing small farmers stepping up and doing more to create a distribution system, such as curbside pickup, home delivery and farmers markets.”
Most farmers markets encourage vendors to have customers order online and pre-pay, so funds don’t need to be exchanged. In Highland Park, Metuchen and Westfield, farm market organizers are insisting on prepaid pickups only and are not allowing walk-ups for the time being.
“We have a laundry list of things growers are stepping to up to do,” says Bill Hlubik, a Middlesex County agent with Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and head of its Cooperative Extensive of Middlesex County. “They’re doing everything in their power, and we’re seeing a heightened sense of awareness across the board.
“Most markets are adopting protocols with prepaid drop off to reduce person-to-person interaction in making sure that product is clean from harvest to distribution to individuals at markets. Growers are going above and beyond to make sure local product is as safe as possible because they want customers to come back, stay healthy and feel safe.”
Several farmers markets were shuttered by the pandemic, while others, such as in Woodbridge and Scotch Plains, are devising ways in which they eventually can open safely. Hlubik suggested towns and farmers reach out to RNJAES for safety protocols and other guidance.
More info about the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (RNJAES) is available at their Web site.
If your town doesn’t have a farmers market, fresh produce can be still be safely obtained. A guide is available at FindJerseyFresh.com/explore.
“It’s important in times like these to support local farmers,” Hlubik said, “to continue to have local produce available and keep them in business during COVID-19.”
In addition to Jersey Fresh produce, many farmer’s markets also sell floral arrangements, potted plants and artisan food.