Thank you to everyone who signed on to our letter to the Governor asking him to sign HB 2302 into law! Dr. Kim Hutchinson, Executive Director of the Virginia Farmers Market Association sent the letter to him today.
HB 2302, “Farmers market food and beverage products; sales considered essential during state of emergency,” passed both the House and Senate during the 2021 Special Session of the Virginia General Assembly. If the Governor signs the bill, “farmers markets will be treated the same as grocery stores if such stores are allowed to remain open as essential businesses during a state of emergency declared by the Governor.”
The full letter is below.
The Honorable Ralph Northam
Governor of Virginia
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218
Dear Governor Northam,
The Virginia Farmers Market Association, along with the undersigned individuals and organizations, are writing to ask for your support of HB 2302 – “Farmers market food and beverage products; sales considered essential during state of emergency.” This legislation is very important for Virginia’s farmers and food producers as well as for the food security of Virginians during future emergencies.
During the onset of COVID-19, we quickly realized the importance of needing to have farmers markets deemed essential during an emergency. Essential businesses were allowed to remain open. Also, insurance companies continued to cover the COVID related claims of essential businesses. At the time, national supply chains were compromised, grocery stores experienced shortages and Virginians were seeking locally raised and prepared food at higher rates than we had seen in decades. Meanwhile, many farmers and food producers were scrambling to reach their customers because farmers markets – their primary sales outlets – were shut down.
We know this was a difficult time for everyone and that your first concern was the health and safety of all Virginians. This is a concern that we take seriously as well. Farmers markets are closely tied to the health of their communities. In collaboration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, your office and VAFMA, Virginia’s farmers markets adjusted their market structures and procedures to ensure that food could be distributed as safely as possible – adding online ordering, curbside pickup, drive thru pickup, hand washing stations, social distancing, masking and other safety measures.
However, many municipal farmers markets, markets located on municipal properties, and markets run by state employees remained closed. Because markets were not deemed essential, there were long delays in getting these and other markets open. Farmers at these markets had already planted the crops that were ready to come to market and they were left looking for other outlets and wondering about their future viability.
Across the United States, farmers markets have been named essential businesses because:
• Farmers markets offer a safer shopping experience. Most markets take place in spacious, open-air settings. Food is not left on shelves and it is only handled by the producer and the customer.
• Farmers markets are flexible. They are able to quickly respond to safety protocols and community needs.
• Farmers markets offer shorter supply chains. Food travels less than 100 miles from farm to the market, compared to 1,500 miles through conventional channels.
• Farmers markets provide direct access to nutrient-dense foods from local farms.
• Farmers markets provide vital food access. Customers using SNAP benefits can double their dollars to buy fresh produce at many markets.
• Farmers markets support local farmers and small food producers. It is vital that we keep consistent investment in local food because it is critical to community food security, especially in times of crisis.
We cannot foresee all of the future emergencies that Virginians will face, however, we can all agree that access to food will remain essential. During a crisis or inclement weather, food security always becomes a top priority. Farmers markets contribute to our state’s food security and to keeping our local farms and food producers in business. They have shown that they can and will respond quickly to community needs and safety protocols.
Therefore, we ask that you sign HB 2302 into law so that farmers markets will be considered essential businesses to the same extent as grocery stores during a state of emergency.
The Virginia Farmers Market Association
Attached is a list of individuals and organizations in Virginia that support this letter.