Local Farmers Markets Cope with COVID-19
by Martha Jackson Suquet
In Pittsfield, community members get their fresh local produce via their local farmers market, but this year the market experience is a bit different. Instead of wandering among market booths, customers place their orders online and market volunteers deliver the locally-grown products to the buyer's doorstep. Roots Rising, which operates the Pittsfield Farmers Market, has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by switching to an entirely virtual farmers market. The organization understood the impact that the pandemic would have on their customers, and worked hard to keep the market going while keeping farmers and customers safe. "Even in the best of times, local food is often priced out of reach, and our market has always had strong food justice programs that are designed to make local food accessible. With these programs shut down along with the market, it left a big gap for food access in Pittsfield," according to Jamie Samowitz and Jess Vecchia, Co-Directors of Roots Rising. "We knew that we needed to create a virtual market that offered substantial financial assistance."
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes to almost every aspect of life, including farmers markets. Market managers and organizing committees have had to be creative, flexible, and determined as they implement new safety measures and continue the important work of connecting community members to locally-grown products.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Berkshire Grown has worked to help farmers and markets adjust their plans, access resources, and understand new regulations. Starting in April, Berkshire Grown held a series of virtual conversations among market managers, facilitating discussions about how to open markets safely. Through a USDA grant administered by Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, markets have been supplied with customer-friendly signage as well as behind-the-scenes guidance to make new procedures easier for shoppers to understand. Berkshire Grown staff has also continued helping markets get set up to offer SNAP and HIP purchasing capabilities to shoppers- an option that is especially critical during this time of upheaval. "Berkshire Grown is a resource for busy farmers and market managers," says Jessica Camp, Program Manager. "Sometimes we're able to help them in-house with issues like processing SNAP and HIP benefits, or we connect them with outside resources and funding."
In general, farmers markets have been declared "essential," and have continued to operate during shutdowns. As the COVID-19 guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources point out, "maintaining and increasing access to local food is essential, particularly in times of
unsteadiness." In Massachusetts, safety recommendations for markets include social distancing, sanitizing tables, pre-packaging products whenever possible, and of course, wearing masks and washing hands frequently. New York's guidelines are similar, but also prohibit live music and on-site dining at markets.
At the Copake Hillsdale Farmers Market, vendors set up their tables six feet apart. Face masks are required for vendors and customers, and a safe traffic flow has been created with one entry point and one exit. Customers are encouraged not to linger at the market. It's different than most seasons, when the market has staged live music and served as a social gathering spot as well as a grocery shopping trip for customers. Market manager Nicole Friedrich says the new market vibe is "friendly and relaxed while still maintaining all the safety measures we need to have in place."
Lee Farmers Market manager Kathy DeVarennes highlights the challenges of keeping vendors and customers safe at the market: "I think the hardest part has been gently encouraging people to shop and leave" even though customers are hungry for social interactions after so much isolation. Still, she notes that everyone is happy to be back at the market.
Despite the changes required, many markets are experiencing a successful season, and they remain an
important part of the local food supply chain
. Roots Rising reports that since the opening of their Virtual Farmers Market in Pittsfield, they "have packed and delivered 2,400 orders, generated almost $86,000 in income for our farmers and food producers, and given out almost $28,000 in fresh food to our low-income neighbors." The Copake Hillsdale Farmers Market has seen more SNAP customers and an overall increase in market attendance.
In the midst of a global crisis, it's heartening to see that communities continue to support their local farmers, and that farmers and markets are able to play a major role in feeding community members. If you haven't done so already, put on your mask, follow social distancing guidelines, and head out to your nearest farmers market this week to share in the bounty of our region. And remember - thank your farmers!
Berkshire Grown in the News:
Farming through a pandemic: The ups and downs
A car rolled up the steep, gravel driveway of Full Well Farm before stopping next to a wooden stand, weathered by time and the elements. The driver popped out, grabbed a box from the stand and waved up the hill to Laura Tupper-Pulches, a co-owner of the farm. She greeted the driver back by name, and soon he was on his way with a box filled with fresh vegetables and herbs.
The scene is a vignette of Community Supported Agriculture, the system that connects farmers with locals who want fresh food. At Full Well Farm, patrons buy in to receive a box of food every week of the growing season, harvested less than 24 hours before it hits the stand. And they were doing takeout way before it was in.
Out & About
Berkshire Grown: Where to find local food and farms
The Berkshire Edge Magazine is happy to present Berkshire Grown's annual guide to food and farms. Keep Farmers Farming! Find their products in this
The good news in these challenging times is that we don't have to do without the wonderful produce from Berkshire farms that always makes this season so special here.
Virtually all the farm stands, farmers markets, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as many restaurants and other retailers, are still offering products grown and otherwise sourced in the Berkshires. The process of purchasing has changed a bit - each of these sellers has developed new rules of engagement to get their products to you safely - but, hey, who's complaining? As long as we can lay our hands on these local specialties, we're happy.
PYO Blueberries and more!
Grab your mask and head for the brambles....
July is the perfect time to "pick your own" and enjoy the fruits of YOUR labor!
Visit any one o
Farm and Business Members to pick your own berries. You can't get much fresher than that!
Please call ahead or visit their websites for updated picking conditions and guidelines.
The Berry Patch
Premium quality no spray and low spray berries
518-733-6772 or 518-733-1234
15589 NY Rt. 22, Stephentown, NY
Blueberry Hill Farm
358 East St., Mount Washington, MA
Open 10am - 5pm, Thursday-Monday, July 21-mid September. Check Facebook (Blueberry Hill Farm - Berkshires) for current picking conditions
Blueberry Hill Farm
47 Washington Mt. Rd., Washington, MA
Bug Hill Farm
Organically grown unusual berries- black currants, native blueberries and more.
502 Bug Hill Road, Ashfield, MA
Gaetano's Organic Farm
453 Main Street
Hay Berry Farm
1276 Babcock Lake Rd., Hoosick Falls, NY
750 Wiltsie Bridge Road, Ancram, NY 12502
Always call ahead for hours and availability.
Windy Hill Farm
Blueberries through mid-August
686 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA
Visit the complete listing of farms along with map locations at Berkshire Grown's
Find Food and Farms
What We Are Reading:
In low-income areas fast food crowds out fresher options
Many people in the food-rich Central Valley experience a high degree of food insecurity
Many Americans take comfort in the routine of jumping into the car and grabbing a burger. They choose restaurants with familiar faces behind the counter. They even yearn for a favorite "greasy spoon" diner while having to cook for themselves at home during COVID-19.
People feel emotionally attached to food and the routines associated with it. These rituals provide a sense of comfort and belonging - even if the meal is from a fast-food restaurant and they stood in line for it.
I study food security in California's Central Valley, which is, ironically, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. Food security means maintaining reliable, consistent access to food. It requires time and resources that are often scarce in food-insecure households.
The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook:
125 Homegrown Recipes from the Hills of New England
by Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner
with Chef Brian Alberg
2020 Guide to Local Food & Farms
Now more than ever, connections to local food and farms hold our community together.
Berkshire Grown's 2020 Guide to Local Food and Farms is the region's best guide to farms, farmers markets, and restaurants offering local foods.
Use this Guide to find farm stands, CSA farms, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as locally sourced, value-added products like charcuterie, preserves, and fermented foods.
Connect to the Guide here to see descriptions of Berkshire farms, farmers markets, restaurants and local food businesses, with addresses and a detailed map. Or, pick up a printed copy at your local grocery store or farm stand. Keep the Guide handy and use it frequently!
Shop Local Now!
Find Farms and Food Producers offering Home Delivery, Farm Stands, Farmers Markets, CSA's, Online Ordering, and Retail Outlets stocking local goods.
Great Barrington Farmers Market is looking for a new market manager.
Do you love supporting your community, local farms, and making sure people get access to good food? It could be a great job for you! Drop us a line at
Greenhouse Business for sale
in Lee, MA. The Golden Hill Nursery has 41 years of business and a great following, farm land available and potential to add a farm market. If interested, please email.
Support Berkshire Grown, local food, and our farmers.
Stay in Touch
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Andrea Caluori, Program Manager
Jess Camp, Program Manager
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
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