Farmers market open amid coronavirus outbreak

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The Oxford Farmers Market invites people to shop at the market in Uptown Park every Saturday from 10 a.m. until noon – from a safe distance. Photo courtesy of Oxford Farmers Market.

By Casey Brosokas

With many businesses forced to close and events canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Oxford Farmers Market is one that will remain open to the public every Saturday.

Larry Slocum and Ross Olson, the operators of the market have been working with the city and community to make shopping at the market easy and safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

The market qualifies as an essential business because it is a food supplier, and therefore is allowed to remain open during the shutdown of non-essential businesses around the state. 

“As grocery stores’ shelves are emptied, and many worry how long we will have to go without, I take comfort in knowing that our local farmers have been hard at work to provide a bountiful harvest, all year long,” Olson wrote on the Farmers Market Facebook page.

The market will continue to serve the community fresh food and is committed to helping the residents of Oxford in any way it can. The market is working with several food pantries and services such as TOPSS, the senior center, and local churches to help support those in need.

“The city has asked us to continue to stay open, weekly on Saturdays 10 till noon. At this point, it seems that city officials understand how important the Market is,” wrote Olson. While the market will remain open, there will be changes in the way it operates.

Social distancing signs now are displayed throughout the market to remind the customers and workers to stay six feet away from each other. Spaces in between vendors also have been increased to reduce crowding.

The market also accepts SNAP/EBT and participates in Produce Perks, which is a dollar for dollar matching program for SNAP eligible customers. The market will also be working with several new benefit programs, such as Produce Perks. Produce Perks is a voucher program for low income families that may not meet the qualifications for SNAP eligibility.  It provides vouchers for $40 worth of produce from the Farmers Market.  

The market is also participating in another voucher program in partnership with the Ohio Council on Aging and the Oxford Senior Center called the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).  This program provides $50 in vouchers for eligible seniors (over 60) to buy fresh produce at the Oxford Farmers Market.

During the virus crisis, the market is not allowing vendors to hand out samples, and customers are strongly discouraged from touching merchandise on display tables. Prices will also be rounded to the nearest dollar so that vendors will not have to handle coins, which may harbor the virus. Hand sanitizing stations will be throughout the market and vendors do not have any tablecloths on their stations, to make them easier to sanitize and wipe down.

Fresh herbs are among the wares offered at the Oxford Farmers Market  Saturday, April 11, with a warning not to touch the plants until they had been purchased, to guard against transmission of the coronavirus. Photo courtesy of the Oxford Farmers Market.

“We’ve had a really good turnout the past couple of weeks… Because of the changes, we’ve made people feel more comfortable to shop with us,” said Larry Slocum, co-operator of the market.

“We’re operating under the condition that we are only providing foods because that is what is essential,” said Slocum, “Our artisan vendors have not been able to come, but they have been pivoting to making masks,” he said.

Some very popular items are the homemade masks and hand sanitizer that the vendors have been bringing, Olson and Slocum said.

Upcoming changes include a delivery service and e-commerce site for customers who cannot or choose not to leave their homes, Slocum said. The market will be releasing more information about those services in the coming weeks, he said.

The e-commerce site will allow customers to order produce online, and pick it up Tuesday nights, or get it delivered. The site is getting ready to launch, and the link will be available on the Oxford Farmer’s Market website and on any of its social media accounts, Olson and Slocum said.

Starting in May, the market will be open to the public every week on Saturdays and Tuesdays, which will provide more access, they said. Olsen and Slocum also are working on a cashless system for the market, in which customers will be able to swipe their bank cards and load a certain amount of money onto a gift card, and then use that to purchase their produce.

“No matter what happens going forward, the Oxford Farmers Market is committed to continuing to feed our community. We will continue to work together with our partners in the community to meet the most basic needs,” they said.