Winter Farmers’ Markets: a safe place for shopping and community connection

Farmers’ markets across Maine are adapting their operations for the winter months during Covid-19. The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM) reports that there are 26 winter farmers’ markets running up through December, some even longer! From Kittery and Berwick, all the way up to Orono, winter farmers’ markets are open for business to feed their communities during the darker months of the year.

The staff member at the Brunswick Winter Market tracks the customer count to maintaint safe limits set by the Maine CDC.

Market operators are taking public health regulations seriously as they organize their markets in the colder months. This winter, those regulations include customer limits, mandatory face-coverings, and physical distancing. In response, many markets, or individual vendors at certain markets, plan to remain selling outdoors for as long as possible. Some of Maine’s bigger winter farmers’ markets, like the Portland Winter Market, are recruiting volunteers, or hiring staff, to assist with customer counting and crowd management. 

Jimmy DeBiasi, Director of MFFM, sees an opportunity for farmers’ markets to play a critical role in food access this winter. “This past spring, shoppers sought out farmers’ markets to buy fresh food in safe and clean environments. I think we can expect that again this fall and winter at farmers’ markets” says DeBiasi. MFFM notes that SNAP/EBT sales at farmers’ markets grew by nearly 50% this year. Over 35 farmers’ markets accept SNAP and offer the Maine Harvest Bucks program, which doubles the value of shoppers’ SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets. 

At the Belfast Winter Farmers’ Market, which runs every Friday through April at Aubuchon Hardware, vendors will spread out by having a number of them set up outside. “We want our shoppers, and our farmers, to feel as safe as possible, and this is how we’re going to do it” says Noami Brautigam, the market market organizer. “We’re Mainers, and we know how to navigate the cold.” At Belfast, and most other winter markets, shoppers can pre-order and pay directly from farmers’ websites to have a quicker shopping trip at the market.  

The Portland Winter Farmers’ Market, which operates every Saturday from December through April at 631 Stevens Avenue, is organizing volunteers to support their shopper counting. The Brunswick Winter Market, at Fort Andross on Saturday mornings, hired a staff person to count shoppers who come inside. Both markets also have vendors who are setting up outdoors to spread the crowd and keep people feeling safe. “We grow food for our community” says Abby Sadauckas, of Apple Creek Farm at the Brunswick Winter Market. “Our markets have been a safe place for people to access high quality food and have a moment to socialize in this era of social distancing.”

Farmers’ markets play a critical role in providing food access to the communities they serve. This winter, 15 farmers’ markets are offering Maine Harvest Bucks to shoppers who use SNAP/EBT to buy food. With Maine Harvest Bucks, people who use SNAP/EBT earn a matching bonus buck for every dollar they spend on their SNAP/EBT card. “The Maine Harvest Bucks program is extremely valuable to our shoppers this year” says Kelby Young, of the Augusta Mill Park Farmers’ Market. “Many people are losing their jobs. Signing up for SNAP is helping them make ends meet. Maine Harvest Bucks makes healthy food much more affordable for them, and it gives us farmers additional sales, too.”

A full list of winter farmers’ markets can be found here. Winter farmers’ markets in Maine still offer a wide variety of storage crops and greens, in addition to meat, eggs, poultry, baked goods, fiber products, maple products, honey, and a variety of prepared foods.

Farmers’ markets have been designated as an essential service as early as March of 2020. Shoppers should be prepared to shop at winter farmers’ markets by taking the following steps: limit the number of people in your party as much as possible, wear a face covering, pre-order (when possible), come with a list to do your shopping quickly, follow market rules and signs, maintain 6ft of physical distancing. 

Curious about Covid Safety Protocols? Click here.

Looking for a winter market? Check out the list.

Click here for a list of SNAP/Maine Harvest Bucks markets.