Grocery stores are struggling to keep their shelves stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers are lining up early and emptying the shelves in order to prepare for a potential quarantine.
But is a packed supermarket the safest place to buy food during this time of social distancing?
Scott Packard, chief communications and public affairs officer for the Houston Health Department, said outdoor markets pose a lower health risk for contracting the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus.
“Generally speaking, because of the open-air nature of the outdoors, there is typically a lower health risk,” Packard said in an email. “However, it’s important to again note that COVID-19 risk is associated with proximity and length of exposure whether that occurs indoors or outdoors.”
Jessica Ivins, owner of Edgesetter Marketing & Events — the company that puts on the Heights Morning Market every Sunday from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. — pointed out that it’s fear and frenzy that is causing people to go into crowded stores. In those stores there’s a lot of people touching a lot of things, but at an outdoor market everything is typically more spread out.
“If you think about any item on the shelf at a Walmart, how does it get there and how many places does it rest before getting to that shelf,” Ivins said. “Then you have the storing and stocking. You have so many touch points. All these things that you don’t have at a farmers market.”
At markets, the seller is usually the maker, so buyers can see exactly who the product is coming from.
Markets in the area, including the Heights Morning Market as well as Eleanora’s Market, held Saturdays from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. at 2120 Ella Blvd., and The Farmstand at Petrol Station, held Saturdays from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. at 948 Wakefield Dr., have also implemented various public health precautions, like no sampling of food, hand-washing stations and not allowing customers to touch products. Instead, customers must point to items they want before having them bagged by vendors.
“We just want people to come and enjoy our cheese and enjoy that time out in the market,” Gary Young of Dapper Goat Dairy Farm said.
Young, who sets up at Eleanora’s Market, said that during this time it’s even more important for markets not to be cancelled because it’s an access to food and because of the livelihood of the vendors. Another market Young sets up at is in Tomball. It’s been cancelled for the next two weeks, and he said he doesn’t understand why.
“This is their way of surviving. They make their money like this every week,” Federico Cavatore of Eleanora’s Market said about market vendors.
Cathy Sullivan of The Farmstand at Petrol Station echoes Cavatore’s sentiment.
“Small farmers depend on weekly income. Perishable produce cannot wait,” Sullivan said. “It must be harvested when ripe or it will be wasted, composted or animal feed, which is a loss of income for the grower.”
Ivins said farmers markets also tend to sell products with healthier ingredients, natural supplements like CBD oil and elderberry syrup, and other natural remedies.
“The bottom line, and why I think it’s so important to keep (markets) going, and what farmers markets represent in general, is health,” Ivins said. “And weekly farmers markets shine a spotlight on that.”