As the COVID 19 pandemic expanded, local boards of health and other municipal bodies, along with market managers, vendors, and shoppers, understandably became concerned about how to operate farmers markets safely. Most winter markets were cancelled and some summer market openings were put on hold.
Following the release of state guidance from MDAR and DPH, which set the terms of operations for services deemed essential by the Governor, some markets still struggled to obtain municipal approval to open in large part due to confusion around the state guidance and whether such guidance has precedence over local regulators.
The Governor’s March 23 essential services order not only urges essential services to “continue operations during the state of emergency, but to do so with allowance for social distancing protocols consistent with guidance provided by the Department of Public Health.” The order further states, “This Order supersedes and makes inoperative any order or rule issued by a municipality that will or might in any way impede or interfere with the achievement of the objectives of this Order.”
The Collaborative reached out to the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) for help clarifying the order. At the same time, the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards (MAHB) issued a guidance document.
In an effort to provide consistent information to assist market managers and municipal regulators, the Collaborative worked with MAHB to issue a joint guidance document. The guidance supports the opening of farmers markets and recommends that market managers, vendors, and local boards of health work to follow the state orders and guidance to operate farmers markets safely.
Contact MAHB about their original guidance and Jeff Cole for more information from the Collaborative. If needed, farmers market managers and farmers may be able to take advantage of CLF’s pro-bono service, Legal Food Hub.