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HUTCHINSON — For Don and Donna Miller of Don’s Produce Patch in Hutchinson, selling at the farmers market is their sole source of income.
This year, some customers are apprehensive amid COVID-19 concerns, but Kansas State University food safety specialist Londa Nwadike said science is on the side of produce growers.
"There is currently no evidence that the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has been transmitted through food or food packaging," said Nwadike, who has dual extension appointments with K-State and the University of Missouri, in a release.
That is good news for vendors and their customers. The Millers will be able to sell their carrots, onions and greens, and Kansans will be able to eat fresh, homegrown food.
"We plan to pre-bag a good number of items," Don Miller said. "We hope to have a package deal, too, and round off the items, so we don’t have to deal with change."
In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 28, limiting residents to those activities that are essential. Farmers markets supply food and services that are considered essential functions and are exempt from this order.
Growers and the markets they sell in must find new ways to sell food while maintaining social distancing.
The safety steps for farmers markets include:
• Place vendor tables further apart to allow more space for social distancing.
• Do not serve unpackaged food as samples or for purchase.
• Package produce in a bag at the front of the table.
• Do not allow customers to touch produce before buying.
• Provide hand-washing or hand-sanitizing stations.
• Frequently clean and disinfect high touch surfaces.
Nwadike said many of the same recommendations hold for U-Pick operations in which customers are allowed to enter a grower’s farm and pick their own produce.
Timothy Spare, of Spare Produce in St. John, is only doing local home deliveries. With spinach and lettuce to offer his customers, he and his mother, Melodie, are going to wait until they have more plants in the ground before they start attending the Reno County, Great Bend and Pratt markets.
The Millers and the Spares rely upon the farmers markets for their income.
"We have product ready to go, and we need to move it," Don Miller said. "It there’s no market, we are probably going to go out of business."
Both families are concerned about what they can do to prevent either catching the virus or having customers spread it unknowingly to them or each other.
"Things will be slightly different," Spare said. "We’ll make adjustments. We’ll listen to the advice of K-State and take it one day at a time."
For added safety, Nwadike said consumers should wash produce when they get home. That includes washing the whole produce, even if you don’t eat the peel and wash such items as cantaloupe and potatoes with a produce brush.
"All the research shows that clean, running water is the best way for consumers to wash produce," Nwadike said. "Produce washes have not been shown to be more effective than clean, running water."