Seattle’s farmers markets will remain closed until at least April 13, despite being declared essential businesses by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee when he issued his stay-at-home order on Monday evening.
A spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday that permits for farmers markets will remain suspended as the city tries to limit the extent of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Protecting the public health and safety of our Seattle communities is our top priority,” Durkan’s office wrote in a statement. “Farmer’s markets, while they are a treasured resource, also attract large crowds of people who often come into close contact with each other. Currently, the citywide ban on permitted events, which includes farmer’s markets, will continue until April 13.”
Permits were suspended March 13 to help stem the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The Neighborhood Farmers Markets Alliance launched a petition on March 20 to help show support for the popular markets. Jennifer Antos, the Alliance’s executive director, said 99% of the 1,200 signees so far have agreed that markets are essential and should remain open.
“It’s our firm stance that farmers, no matter what size they are, are an essential part of the food supply,” Antos said. “So, it’s really a food security issue even though that’s not the problem currently. But we’re really concerned about the impact of this closure on the food supply in the next four to six months.”
Antos says about 125 of the 200 vendors the Alliance works with are land-based farmers who rely on the early spring income to fund their seed purchases and planting plans. Decisions made now could affect how local farmers and associated businesses fare later this year.
She also added that the city’s suggestion that farmers-market vendors apply for a grant from the city’s Small Business Stabilization Fund does not cover farmers.
“And so I think there’s a significant concern that this closure and the uncertainty beyond that will have a lasting negative impact on the local food supply chain, which is a really critical part of feeding the city,” Antos said.
A spokesperson for Inslee said the governor’s order does not preempt local jurisdictions from deciding to enact more strict guidelines. The city’s decision affects the Alliance’s three year-round locations — University District, West Seattle and Capitol Hill — as well as the Seattle Farmers Market Association’s Ballard location. Most seasonal markets are not yet open, but will be affected if the permit suspension is extended in light of a worsening outbreak.
Pike Place Market is largely unaffected by the suspension. While the historical site has lost a few of its associated produce vendors that set up in the open air and its more than 40 flower vendors, most of its regular restaurants and grocery store-like seafood and produce shops are still open while following social-distancing guidelines. Many vendors have also banded together to try and take their wares online.
Zack Cook, farm programs manager at Pike Place Market, said there may be more of an impact on the Market’s suppliers if coronavirus restrictions last into the growing season, which begins next month. He echoed Antos’ sentiments on the possible impacts to growing season.
“Seattle farmers markets play a critical role in ensuring food access for all,” he said in an email. “The Seattle markets all have robust food access programs which support low-income shoppers and keep valuable tax dollars in our local economy. Washington state really is an agricultural powerhouse and during times like this, supporting our local growers is more important than ever and one of the best ways to do that is to buy direct from your local farmers market.”