A lot of people in the Baltimore area are confronting the corona virus pandemic with trepidation. There's a lot of conflicting opinions swirling around, complicated by inconsistent facts. When it comes to shopping for food we seem to be in a true quandary. While many people are going to grocery stores armed with face masks and hand sanitizers, many are also reluctant to chance it. I would like to talk about one method of food shopping that I think is quite safe, and that would be going to our farmers markets. And I know Chef Jerry Pellegrino is a big fan.
While exact numbers are difficult to unearth (the Farmers Market Association recently closed down for good) we do know that about a dozen stayed open all winter long, including the Waverly market in Baltimore where I shop. As spring rolled around most of our state's markets opened with a few notable exceptions. The big Sunday Baltimore market under the JFX stubbornly remained closed until this past weekend. Although quite laudable in some respects, their refusal to open meant substantial losses for our farmers who depended on that particular market for big cash sales.
But now it's open and I went down to take a look for myself and compare it to the Waverly market. At Waverly both farmers and customers quickly adapted to the new realities of shopping the outdoors stalls. Early on face masks were in evidence, although the techniques of social distancing that we now take for granted took a few weeks to settle in.
Waverly, a medium sized market, did one very sensible thing. They expanded the footprint of the market itself, providing a lot more open space for the customers to stroll through. Thus there was a lower density right off the bat. Patrons of the market policed themselves and learned to patiently stand in line the requisite 6 feet apart. Farmers did their part too, donning masks and gloves and reminding their customers to keep their distance.
The big Sunday market in Baltimore has taken further steps to insure a healthy experience. First, they are limiting the number of shoppers to about 200 at any one time. When I was there, the waiting line stretched about 200 yards, but upon closer inspection I learned that the waiting time was only about 4-5 minutes. Not bad at all.
With entry controlled, the enforcement of mandatory masks was easy. No mask, no entry. But I never saw a single person try to get in without one. In the market itself, traffic is one way clockwise. Social distancing is super easy given the lower density of people. Most of the familiar farm stands were there, with a few exceptions. But the beloved ready to eat food stands with their long clustering lines were absent. A sad but sensible move.
I saw multiple hand washing stations, and market officials patrolling the crowds just in case there was a problem. As far as I could tell, there were none.
All of this was happening outside of course, with fresh air freely circulating and people being automatically careful about their groupings. There was a true sense of happiness and relief in evidence, and a lot of happy customers were carrying off big bags of delicious Maryland food.
In my opinion, I cannot think of a safer way to go shopping during these worrisome times.