Now more so than ever, we are seeing how important a local, vibrant, healthy food system is. In March, Gov. Kate Brown deemed farmers markets “essential services”, just like grocery stores, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, Gorge Grown Food Network opened Hood River Farmers Market’s outdoor season one month ahead of schedule to provide a key access point for local food during this challenging time.
As we prepared to open the outdoor season, we consulted farmers market staff across the county to learn their best practices, Oregon Health Authority and Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and City officials. We are grateful to Mayor Kate McBride and City Manager Rachael Fuller for their excellent, direct communication and due diligence in working with us to execute a successful and safe season opening.
Our research led us to develop a robust safety plan for the Hood River Farmers Market. The entire safety plan can be found at www.gorgegrown.com/safetyatmarket. We ask that customers read our expectations before shopping at the market. Farmers markets for the foreseeable future will be much different than in the past. A few requests:
While social distancing recommendations remain in effect, we will limit shoppers to one person per household whenever possible. Please don’t shop in groups and remember that the market is providing an essential grocery service: It is not a social event at this time.
Leave pets at home during this time.
Be patient as we  limit the number of customers inside the market.
Wear as facemask as recommended by the Center for Disease Control.
Bring hand sanitizer, and use it before and after entering the market.
Following our rules and expectations will ensure the market can remain open to support our local farmers and bolster our local economy. Farmers in the Gorge are struggling as supply chains are disrupted and restaurants close or limit their operations. Last year, Hood River Farmers Market vendors collectively earned more than $530,000 to reinvest in our community and local economy. Spending your dollars locally may keep local farms and food businesses from closing or laying off staff.
As unemployment rises and needs of vulnerable community members grow, the market’s food access programming will be of increased importance. One in three people in the Gorge do not have enough to eat. A significant amount of Hood River Farmers Market sales come from low-income shoppers through SNAP (food stamps), Veggie Rx and other assistance programs. Already in April, we saw a record amount of SNAP spent at the market. Gorge Grown Food Network provides an additional $10 free for customers using their SNAP benefits at Hood River Farmers Market.
Through data collected at the market in April, we know that 98 percent customers were local. Sixty percent came from Hood River and 38 percent from surrounding communities like White Salmon, Mosier, and Parkdale. The 2 percent of people that came from out of town were staying with family members, and they did not visit Hood River just to attend the farmers market.
Thus far, the market has been very successful, and we are heartened by the support of our customers, vendors and community members as we work toward our mission to build a resilient, inclusive food system that improves the health and well-being of our community.
 
Hannah Ladwig is Farmers Market Manager for Gorge Grown Food Network.

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