The New Reality: Farmers’ markets go digital and physically distanced during COVID-19

Shopping at farmers’ market to look different this year
WATCH: With easing restrictions, some New Brunswick farmers’ markets are starting to reopen. But as Shelley Steeves reports, the shopping experience will be completely different.

This is the tenth in a series of stories looking at the new reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Maritimes. You can find the full series here.

The days of hanging out shoulder-to-shoulder at your local market are gone.

In order to adhere to mandatory physical distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, markets across the Maritimes have had to completely alter their operations.

“It kinda took this pandemic to make us realize that we had to find a new way to do business,” said Paul-Emille Doucet, who manages the Dieppe Market in Dieppe, New Brunswick.

READ MORE: Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market to test pre-order and pick-up program

With retail stores shut down at the start of the pandemic, the market launched an online store so people could continue to support local producers and farmers.

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“We have organized a drive-through and they come by and pick up their orders,” said Doucet.

After patrons order their groceries online, masked vendors fill their orders inside. A convoy of cars lines up outside for pickup.

While the concept is working well, it doesn’t bring the sense of social gathering once experienced at the market, Doucet said.

“That’s a whole aspect of the market people are going to miss,” he said.

N.S. tourism sector working to adapt and attract stay-cationers during COVID-19
N.S. tourism sector working to adapt and attract stay-cationers during COVID-19

On Friday, the market started to allow people into the building for in-person pickups. But hanging out for a chat is being discouraged.

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“They will have a limited amount of time to be in the building and then they will be on their way,” he said.

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Coronavirus outbreak: WHO recommends wearing non-medical masks in public
Coronavirus outbreak: WHO recommends wearing non-medical masks in public

The Moncton market will also reopen on June 6, said Isabelle Leblanc, who is a spokesperson for the City of Moncton.

The market will open in three phases in the coming weeks she said.

The first phase will be limited to grocery vendors and those that sell essentials. The number of people allowed into the facility will be limited to accommodate mandatory physical distancing, said LeBlanc.

“Come in, get what you need to get — it is not a question of browsing around — and certainly make sure that you leave so that other people can also enter the market,” she said.

READ MORE: Pandemic could change Nova Scotia’s school food programs

But little has changed at the Maritime ‘Crafts Shirts and more’ market in Shediac, N.B., said Traci Patey who manages the craft market.

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While measures are in place to respect COVID-19 protocols, it continues to be a vendorless market with only one person at the front to look after transactions, said Patey.

“It will certainly offer a way to [have] a safe environment for a lot of people. Our vendors come in and they set up their spaces and then they leave,” she said.
Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market launches ‘pod’ test for vendors, customers
Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market launches ‘pod’ test for vendors, customers

Patey believes the vendorless concept could be used in other markets until a vaccine is created for COVID-19. But there is a drawback.

“Artisans often connect with their customers, so we have to do it in other ways like online marketing,” said Patey.

Meanwhile, Doucet said he looks forward to the day when COVID-19 is in everyone’s rearview mirror and the market can once again become a place for much-needed socialization.

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“I think it will make people really appreciate what they had,” he said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

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