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Local News

"That's Why We're Farmers"

Ukiah Farmers Market Manager Robert Ayres

March 23, 2020 — The shutdown order to shelter in place has exemptions for agriculture and shopping for essential things, which means licensed farmers markets are still allowed to operate. At Saturday’s outdoor market in Ukiah, vendors were following an elaborate protocol, asking customers to pay for produce they were not allowed to touch by dropping money into containers on tables that had been set up to create a buffer between people. Change had been sanitized, and a hand-washing station was in place next to the Porta Potty. Alex Nielson of Cinnamon Bear Farms said he and his wife were dividing up the tasks, so only one of them handled money, while the other handled food.

Still, vendors reported they had had a good day. Jessica Taaning Sanchez, of Inland Ranch Organics in Redwood Valley, had sold most of the meat and all the eggs she brought. “I’m in a better position than most,” she reflected, when asked if she’d be able to pull through if the markets were canceled. But she did breed show pigs for kids to take the fair this year. She anticipates that there will probably be no fair, though, and plans to market the animals instead. “I have to be resourceful,” she concluded.

Adrian Garcia of Ortiz Family Farms in Santa Rosa just had a few bunches of greens and herbs at the end of the day. Like all farmers heading into the growing season, he’s hoping for a good summer. But, with two markets a day, “We live off of this,” he said. “If the markets don’t happen, we have nothing else we can do...it’s kind of scary at the moment.” He’s in talks now to figure out alternatives, including how to shift into wholesale marketing. “We’re trying our best to stay positive,” he added.

Ukiah Farmers Market manager Robert Ayres said he was pleased with how vendors had handled the distancing and sanitation protocols. He said the market operates under mandates from the Health Department and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. He’s also optimistic about farmers being able to continue growing and selling food, either at the markets or through community supported agriculture (CSAs), the system where customers order a box of produce each week. And the MendoLake Food Hub, a distribution network that connects small local farmers to restaurants and produce markets, just announced Sunday that it was taking orders from individuals and buyers’ clubs.

“If society is in need, that’s why we’re farmers,” Nielson said. “Because we can rise to the occasion and supply people with food.”


Local News