BCAFM Response to COVID-19 & Resources

BCAFM continues to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic closely. We will provide updates and resources as they relate to farmers’ markets and our members.

 

Last updated: November 30, 2020

BCAFM Response

As a result of reading the feedback from our members regarding the issues with vendor tent spacing and being interviewed on CKNW by Simi Sara at 6:15am this morning our Executive Director, Heather O’Hara and Board President, Vickey Brown have issued the following letter to the PHO:

From:  Heather O’Hara          BCAFM Executive Director
Vickey Brown             BCAFM Board President

To:       Dr. Brian Emerson
Deputy Provincial Health Officer
Ministry of Health

RE:      URGENT Unintended Consequences and Impact 2 metre Vendor Booth Distance

Dear Dr. Emerson,

On behalf of BCAFM member farmers’ markets and vendors across the province thank you very much for the reinstatement of non food vendors at outdoor farmers’ markets along with additional agricultural vendors at indoor farmers’ markets in the PHO Order for Gatherings and Events dated March 18th, 2021.

Regrettably, the new provision which requires the placement of vendor booths two metres apart is dire and has negatively impacted all farmers’ markets immediately and universally. The consequences of this new restriction are reverberating across the province at all farmers’ markets of all shapes and sizes.

We urgently request the PHO to reconsider this restriction immediately with either:

  1. A return to the prior regulation which did not require two metres spacing between vendor booths; or
  2. Consider a practical alternative solution to vendor booth spacing with the option to install physical barriers between vendors booths ie; tent side walls. Suggested language provided below.

We want to remind the Office of the PHO that more vendors does NOT equate to more shoppers or congregation. This is an erroneous assumption. Furthermore, farmers’ markets are operating under the overarching guideline to ensure all patrons, vendors and organizers are “accommodated safely” ensuring five square metres of unencumbered space available for each person present. This overarching requirement is achievable regardless of the number or type of vendors, nor the placement of vendor booths at a farmers’ market which markets have continued to demonstrate since the outset of COVID.

NEGATIVE IMPACTS

  1. Market Space is Not Finite or Unlimited: The majority of farmers’ markets operate in designated and defined spaces. They cannot simply spread out over city blocks, parking lots and public spaces to meet this new 2 metre requirement. We have heard from markets. The 2 metre vendor booth spacing means they are now accepting even LESS original food vendors than before never mind accommodating any returning non food vendors with the lifting of the recent order. Consequently, operating revenues and the financial viability of markets is now even more further jeopardized. This is a disaster that can be averted with a rethink of the latest PHO Order.
  2. Managing Multiple Entry/Exit Access Points: The 2 metre vendor booth spacing requirement is turning markets into swiss cheese figuratively, exponentially adding dozens and dozens of new market entry/exit points and circulation spaces between every single booth. This is impractical and no market has enough rope, pylons and volunteers or staff time to manage every single entry/exit point this requirement is inadvertently creating. Moreover and more importantly, this restriction is seriously compromising the market ability to “facilitate the movement of patrons in one direction” which they have done effectively since COVID restrictions went into effect through single or limited points of entry and exit at the majority of markets.

SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS & LANGUAGE

N. EPISODIC MARKETS

5. A manager of an indoor episodic market must

c. arrange the placement of vendors booths two metres apart, or, install physical barriers between vendors booths which block the transmission of droplets, or, if neither of the foregoing is practical, require vendors to wear a face covering; and in such a way as to facilitate the movement of patrons in one direction;

e. either ensure that there is a distance of two metres between vendors and patrons, or install physical barriers between vendors and patrons which block the transmission of droplets, or, if neither of the foregoing is practical, require vendors to wear a face covering;

6. The manager of an outdoor episodic market must

a. arrange the placement of vendors booths two metres apart, or, install physical barriers between vendors booths which block the transmission of droplets, or, if neither of the foregoing is practical, require vendors to wear a face covering; and in such a way as to facilitate the movement of patrons in one direction;

b. either ensure that there is a distance of two metres between vendors and patrons, or install physical barriers between vendors and patrons which block the transmission of droplets, or, if neither of the foregoing is practical, require vendors to wear a face covering;

For over a year, BCAFM member farmers’ markets have and continue to demonstrate their ability to adapt and meet the challenges of COVID to ensure the health and safety of shoppers, vendors and organizers alike.

We respectfully and urgently request the Office of the PHO to reconsider the 2 metre vendor booth spacing constraint for the viability of markets and vendors moving forward.

Since the outset of the COVID pandemic in March 2020, the BCAFM board and staff team have and will continue to regularly communicate and update the BCAFM membership as much as possible so members are better equipped to navigate the challenges to our sector. Similarly, we continue to advocate frequently and behind the scenes regularly liaise with key government contacts, including BCCDC, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health and Office of the PHO. Our advocacy work since the PHO Order issued Dec 2, 2020 restricting non-food vendors at farmers’ markets is no exception. Based on the feedback we’ve received through member and COVID specific surveys over the past year, we believe and hope that the majority of BCAFM members recognize the tireless work the BCAFM team has undertaken in support of the membership. We also recognize and encourage the direct advocacy individual markets have undertaken on their own related to this issue and others that affect their markets now and always.

For your reference, this is a sample of the advocacy work BCAFM has undertaken on this issue of non-food vendor exclusions since the PHO Order was issued on Dec 2, 2020:

  • December 3rd, 2021:
    • BCAFM seeks clarity to confirm whether non-food vendors have in fact been restricted.
  • December 4th, 2021:
    • BCCDC confirms to BCAFM farmers’ markets restricted to food only vendors
    • BCAFM follows up directly with BCCDC and the office of the Minister of Agriculture regarding the non-food vendor restrictions to share negative impacts and concerns. As a result of this, the Minister of Agriculture office and senior staff confirmed they received our concerns and in the days that followed elevated these concerns directly to the Ministry of Health and Office of the PHO.
    • In the meantime, BCAFM staff surveyed member farmers’ markets directly via email who were still operating in December 2020 regarding the impacts of this December 2, 2021 non-food vendor restriction. We compiled this member feedback to construct our case and summarize impacts and shared those with the PHO and government with a request to immediately reinstate non-food vendors. See impact summary below.
  • December 11th, 2021:
    • BCAFM Executive Director speaks with liaison for Ministry of Health at their request and is invited to attend a meeting with Deputy PHO Dr. Brian Emerson the following week.
  • December 17th, 2021:
    • BCAFM Executive Director and BCAFM Board President meet with Deputy PHO Dr. Brian Emerson to share the negative impacts of this non-food vendor exclusion and ask for the immediate reinstatement of non-food vendors at farmers’ markets. At that time, the PHO indicated they did not anticipate this happening before the holidays and also indicated they would continue to review and consider this request moving forward.
  • Jan 11, 14, 20, 26/Feb 4, 25, 2021
    • Ongoing follow up by BCAFM staff to our key liaison in Ministry of Health regarding the issue of non-food vendor restrictions.

Regardless of the extensive advocacy undertaken by both BCAFM and individual markets, these decisions ultimately rest with the Office of the PHO.

Below is an exact summary of the IMPACTS related to the NON food vendor PHO Order Dec 2, 2020 which were drafted by BCAFM staff and shared with all government contacts, including the Office of the PHO in December:

  1. Canceled Farmers’ Markets: Currently, there are 40 BCAFM member farmers markets or 30% of our total pool of 145 farmers’ market members operating across the province during the winter season. The majority of these markets include a vendor mix of both food and non-food vendors, especially at this time of year due to the seasonal nature of food during peak summer season and high demand for non-food items close to holidays. These markets serve a known, established and critical local and direct sales and marketing channel for thousands of food and non-food entrepreneurs at this time of year, especially in rural or remote locations with limited retail businesses.

Due to this PHO Order, several markets have been forced to cancel their markets outright. Several others will end their markets months earlier jeopardizing revenue and income for all vendors, farmers, food and non-food alike.

  1. Municipality Shut Down Markets: In spite of the PHO designation of farmers’ markets as essential services and with continued support from their local health authority, we are aware of 1 member farmers’ market whose application to operate and business license was denied directly as a result of this latest PHO order. Regrettably, in the early days of COVID this past spring many municipalities did not recognize the value of their farmers’ markets as essential services and market organizers went to heroic efforts and successfully convinced their municipalities to operate.
  2. Buy BC: Regrettably, big box stores, malls and other retail and service businesses have not been included in this PHO Order. Conversely, thousands of exclusively made in BC grow, make, bake small businesses will be directly affected or shut out of the economy entirely with this regulatory change. This is especially the case in rural or remote communities who do not have other conventional retail channel options.

As noted previously, vendors and farmers’ markets have implemented strong health and safety standards including physical distancing, masks and other tactics. Farmers’ markets are simply no less safe than any big box store, mall or other conventional retail channel in this province. There is a strong sentiment that this PHO order to restrict NON food vendors at farmers’ markets is unfair, unjust and unreasonable to these small BC based businesses in comparison.

  1. Decreased Operating Revenues: Due to this PHO Order, most member farmers’ markets are reporting a 25% to 50% decrease in operating revenues, most are now operating at a loss and all of them are grassroots non-profit organizations.
  2. Decreased Income: In fall and winter and especially close to the holidays, customer demand for locally produced non-food items such as crafts and artisanal goods, soap, cleaning products is extremely high. Vendors who sell these BC made goods at farmers’ markets rely on this direct sales and marketing channel to generate their income and sell to thousands of customers across BC.

Due to this PHO Order, hundreds of NON food vendors ie; crafters/artisans no longer have a place to sell their goods and are no longer generating revenue and household income. Some non-food artisan vendors are reporting a loss from 30% to up to 100% of their annual business income. Customer attendance is also down at most markets overall due to fewer vendors which is negatively impacting farm and food vendors who remain.

  1. No Warning: The BC farmers’ market sector is not naïve and has been on heightened awareness moving into the winter and indoor market season to ensure markets are able to continue to operate at the highest health and safety COVID standards. We have been uneasy about the potential for this latest PHO Order restricting vendors. That said, markets have invested their money, time and energy to promote and advertise their winter farmers’ markets. The lack of notice or implementation time with this PHO Order without ample warning time did not provide markets any chance to regroup. This restriction arrived without additional implementation time and vendors and markets and vendors were forced to cease immediately without warning and with financial consequences.

Along with a separate enclosed letter from one of our market members, we would like to share some feedback from other BCAFM member farmers’ markets related to this PHO Order.

  • “In the spring, we fondly remember many of our customers telling us that seeing the market in operation was one of the few signs of normalcy after lockdown. The market evokes such a strong sense of community and pride amongst customers, vendors, staff, and volunteers. We found our farmers’ market to be a symbol of resiliency and optimism despite the overwhelming circumstances. Since moving indoors, the tone of the market has changed. Everyone is tired. I feel that this latest order is so demoralizing, for both those small business owners and those who have supported small businesses.”
  • “Some of these vendors make 95% of their revenue from farmers markets.  Not allowing them to participate has been devastating to their businesses. Not only are these vendors being financially harmed because they’ve lost their main or only sales channel but with it being right before the holiday season they’re now stuck with the cost of all the season inventory they created under the believe that farmers markets had been categorized as essential and therefore not impacted by regulations against events. Many of them have seasonal scents, packaging etc that will be unsaleable after the holidays…As Market organizers, we have worked incredibly hard to illustrate the economic impact that Farmers Markets have within the community.  To present Farmers Markets as a viable source of income for small businesses, and as such they are a significant economic driver of small business in the community.  The lack of understanding of this from the government is evident with this new order.”
  • “Certainly, it will have an immediate impact on the crafter and artisans who rely on sales leading up to the holidays. Long term, it is a further erosion of buying local, with consumers more likely turning to online purchases. Trying to overturn habits is always very challenging, more so when the local option admittedly is somewhat less convenient, even if much better for economies and the environment.”
  • “Our Artisans are a big part of our Market and they are the ones who carry the Market in the coming months until Farmers can bring more produce to the market that they grow in their greenhouse to bring to market . We have always operate under this system for our year round market. Our Meat Farmers will suffer as well as we are their main outlet getting their product to market. Without a market going forward, this will have a great financial impact of them. Many of our Artisans have invested a lot of time and money getting their wares ready for the Holiday season. These Vendors will be taking a big loss. One Vendor who does Greenery for Xmas, has no outlet to sell. So his items sit in a shed until he can find somewhere to sell their items. Online doesn’t work for them as shipping would be impossible and very costly. We always had at least 20 Artisans at Market which were Indoors and Outside. This order has affected them and their livelihood going into the New Year. Our Market runs with about 45-50 Vendors each week. The main frustration the Artisans have is why? Why were they allowed to be part of the Market since June and then all of a sudden the rug gets pulled from under them without warning. Other Retail are allowed to stay open and sell the same products, (some not locally made) yet they couldn’t. Even more upsetting is the fact that this happened during Buy Local Week…Our Markets Safety protocols are top notch and the safety of everyone is a priority.”

BCAFM board and staff continue to work diligently to support the membership during and beyond the COVID pandemic and hope this information assures the membership of our commitment.

BCAFM & COVID-19: Looking Back & Moving Forward

Our Journey So Far

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our member farmers’ markets have been proactive and demonstrated great leadership in their communities. From modifying market operations to opening online markets, BC farmers’ markets have demonstrated just how resilient they are. Most importantly, like always, they took concrete steps to ensure local food reaches their communities, collectively strengthening our local food system.

Behind the scenes and from our homes, the BCAFM team has been advocating, developing initiatives, and communicating with members to navigate our new normal.

Highlights of what we have accomplished so far: 

  • Throughout the pandemic, BCAFM has supported and promoted its 145+ member farmers’ markets. This includes 60+ physical markets with modified operations and 60+ online markets, and by 2020 peak season, BCAFM is expecting 100+ summer markets and 70+ online markets.
  • Advocated for the recognition of farmers’ markets as an essential service.
  • Advocated for the return of non-food vendors to farmers’ markets.
  • Worked in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, BCCDC and other key stakeholders to communicate clearly the most current measures and recommendations to modify operations at farmers’ markets and guidance on communicating these modifications. These webpages continue to be updated based on current health orders and recommendations, as well as through feedback from members, vendors and the public.
  • Between March 16, 2020 and May 29, 2020, BCAFM sent out 23 member e-news dedicated to COVID-19 to update farmers’ market and vendor members with the latest information.
  • Developed the BC Farmers’ Markets Online initiative to provide member markets  access to a reliable and user-friendly online platform (identified Local Line). By securing $85,000 ($55,000 from the Ministry of Agriculture and $20,000 from Vancity Credit Union), BCAFM was able to cover the fees and support 70+ member markets (including spring/summer/fall and winter markets) in operating an online market this season.
  • Successfully applied to the Buy BC Partnership Program to support and promote the BC Farmers’ Markets Online initiative and farmers’ markets selling through an online market (promotional tools to be shared with members soon).
  • Secured funding from the Ministry of Health so that the FMNCP program could run at modified farmers’ markets this season.
  • More than 200 mentions of BC farmers’ markets in local, regional and provincial media outlets.
  • 100+ BCAFM posts on Facebook & Instagram with a reach of 220,000 people

Our Journey Ahead

As member markets continue to modify their operations and were limited to food only vendors, we understand that the work and time required from market organizers has increased while operating revenues have been reduced. In order for the BCAFM to plan the future collaboratively with its members, we prepared a short survey to gather information and suggestions member markets have so that we can better support them and develop the next steps as we move together through this extraordinary season and year. Results are upcoming.

 

Please find below our official updates.

Non-food vendors will be able to join physical farmers’ markets once again as per the updated Gatherings and Events order issued by Provincial Health Officer (PHO) on March 24, 2021. Included in this update is a vendor booth distancing requirement of adding a physical barrier to vendor booths OR providing two metres distancing between booths:

Under Section N EPISODIC MARKETS:

FOR INDOOR MARKETS:

5. A manager of an indoor episodic market must

c. arrange the placement of vendors’ booths two metres apart or install physical barriers between booths which block the transmission of droplets between vendors;

FOR OUTDOOR MARKETS:

6. The manager of an outdoor episodic market must

a. arrange the placement of vendors’ booths two metres apart or install physical barriers between booths which block the transmission of droplets between vendors;

FOR BOTH MARKETS:

Please note that personal services are not allowed at either indoor or outdoor markets at this time.

Also note that the following has been changed:

13. A vendor who sells food for human consumption must comply with the following requirements:

a. not provide samples of food for tasting; and

b. only sell food prepared at an episodic market in single-use containers or dishes.
(This has been adapted from closed, take out containers)

Gatherings and Events order issued by Provincial Health Officer (PHO) holds that farmers’ markets are once again only permitted to sell food itemsThe Ministry of Health and BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has now further clarified that:

  • “sales of non-food items, crafts and other items may be sold on-line, but should not be picked up in the market.”
  • “On-line food sale items may be picked up at the farmers’ market in a designated area or pick-up point.”

Therefore:

  • In-person markets: only food items are permitted to be sold.
  • Online markets: both food and non-food items may be sold, but only food items may be picked up at in-person markets in a designated area or pick-up point.

Markets may sell food and non-food items: The Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, made the announcement today, May 28, 2020, that the April 16, 2020 order prohibiting non-food vendors of selling at in person (physical) markets is now lifted. Read more on Vending Merchandise at Markets (PHO Order May 28, 2020) 

The BCCDC has officially updated their position and have now included a farmers’ market page on their website. This page shares the updated measures required to modify your markets (which are subject to change) to comply with BCCDC direction and the recommendations and orders from the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), including physical distancing, restricted activities, enhanced hygiene, and other measures.

Very important is the following market modification: Markets may sell ONLY FOOD which includes fresh, frozen and prepared foods, food carts, liquor.

Additionally, the BCCDC webpage replaces the previous BCCDC letter shared, but the BCCCDC initial position on the following still stands:

“Farmers’ markets are not currently considered a high risk setting for the transmission of COVID-19. Farmers markets’ are usually held outdoors and there are usually a limited number of people in any one area at the same time.”

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We are delighted to share today’s press release from the Ministry of Agriculture in regards to supporting markets going virtual through our BC Farmers’ Markets Online initiative.

“The B.C. government is providing $55,000 to the BCAFM to cover fees for individual farmers markets to join the online platform and set up their digital market store presence. Each participating farmers market will create its own virtual market store to best serve its communities.

The funding is part of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Buy BC program. Buy BC helps farmers, ranchers and producers market their products as locally grown, raised, harvested or produced, making it easy for British Columbians to Buy BC.”

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Read below the except of today’s Joint statement on Province of B.C.’s COVID-19 response:

“We know that our community and farmers markets are an important source of fresh food. We are heartened that, with the support of funding from the provincial government, many markets are shifting to an online model. We remind market organizers that a public gathering order is in place and physical distancing measures must be followed.

“Further, to reduce the potential for transmission and ensure local, B.C.-grown food can continue to reach customers, a provincial health officer order has been issued, effective immediately.

“All occasional/recurring/weekly events where food and other merchandise is sold (e.g., markets, street markets, night markets, Saturday markets or community markets) must only allow vendors that sell food to be at these events. Vendors of non-food items and all other merchandise are prohibited to sell at these events.

Farmers’ markets have been declared an essential service by the Government of BC. These services include under retail: grocery stores, convenience stores, and farmers markets.

“Essential services are those daily services essential to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning.

They are the services British Columbians rely on in their daily lives. Developed by Emergency Management BC in consultation with other government ministries and the provincial health officer (PHO), this definition is intended to clarify what qualifies as an essential service in the context of the Province’s response to COVID-19. In consultation with the PHO, these services should and are encouraged to remain open.”

The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) have been in contact with the regional health authorities to discuss BCAFM’s concern over farmers’ markets that are on municipal lands and their decisions to cancel individual market locations. As these are municipal decisions, public health will not interfere with those local decisions. The BCCDC encourages us, the BCAFM, and the farmers’ markets to continue the discussion at the municipality level. If the municipality has any public health questions, they can reach out to their local health authority as needed.

BCAFM will be monitoring the different measures taken by farmers’ markets, and will update its online webpages as the situation evolves. Please continue sharing with us the measures you are taking at your market via email at info@bcfarmersmarket.org to share information, questions and concerns that are relevant to all member farmers’ markets.

As we continue to help our members respond to COVID-19, we would first like to reiterate that farmers’ markets are first and foremost food retail establishments for people to purchase food while supporting local farmer and producer livelihoods. Generally held outdoors, they are not considered a high risk for transmission.

In response to the progressing situation, BCAFM has created a COVID Task Force with staff and board to meet regularly. This will ensure that we can meet the needs of our members and provide support as the issue evolves. We remain in contact with the Province of BC and BC Centre for Disease Control to continue providing updates, tools, and resources (see below).

We strongly believe in the value of farmers’ markets to BC communities and the local food system, especially in these times of uncertainty. Which is why we are inspired by the innovative approaches markets and their vendors are exploring to ensure that residents will be able to continue to access fresh, healthy, local food, such as online pre-ordering, encouraging shorter market visits, and delivery.

While we do not have all the answers, we encourage you to reach out to us if you have any questions, concerns or wish to share ideas or stories of how your farmers’ market is making important adjustments to continue providing food in its community. We can be reached at info@bcfarmersmarket.org. Collectively, we will come through stronger on the other side of this.

As our markets operate exclusively in British Columbia, BCAFM will take cues and guidance on COVID-19 from the most relevant sources including the Province of BC and the Federal Government of Canada.

The vast majority of BCAFM member markets will launch the 2020 season beginning this May onwards, however, there are number of markets currently operating today during the shoulder season. Things are shifting day by day and we all need to be proactive now and prepare for what could be a more challenging farmers market season.

Resources

The situation is evolving every day, and we also understand that you may have questions on the impacts this might have and where you can get the support you need. While we do not have all the answers, we encourage you to explore the resources below. We will update the following information as the situation evolves.

If there is something not addressed here or you still have questions, get in touch with us at info@bcfarmersmarket.org.

BC Farmers’ Market operators and vendors are actively modifying their market operations in accordance with the direction set by the Provincial Health Officer and BC Centre for Disease Control. They will also continue to operate using FOODSAFE and MarketSafe best practices, as prescribed by provincial health authorities.

Visit our Modifying Farmers’ Market Operations page to learn more about how BCAFM member farmers’ markets are actively modifying their operations to prioritize health and safety for all while continuing to provide fresh, local food and BC products.

Non-Medical Support for COVID-19

Non-medical information about COVID-19 is available 7:30am-5pm, 7 days a week at 1-888-COVID19 (1-888-268-4319) or via text message at 604-630-0300.

Visit the Provincial Website
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