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Operators of two of Oahu’s largest farmers markets said they are keeping their markets open during the coronavirus threat. Read more

Operators of two of Oahu’s largest farmers markets said they are keeping their markets open during the coronavirus threat.

“If you follow what other states are doing — Washington, New York, California — they’ve identified farmers markets as essential businesses,” said Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawai‘i Farm Bureau.

“Farmers markets are outdoor supermarkets. They provide access to Hawaii residents for food — and they’re venues for farmers to sell what they produce. Especially with restaurants and hotels shutting down, the farms have an excess supply and we can’t afford for farmers to not have income. If they don’t, they can’t grow anything.”

The farm bureau operates five weekly markets, two at Kapiolani Community College, and one each in Mili­lani, at Blaisdell Center and in Kailua. The bureau is keeping open the Mililani and Blaisdell markets.

Pamela Boyar, owner of FarmLovers Market, agrees. She said products available at farmers markets are especially nutritious because they are picked within days and, pertinent in these germ-conscious times, are handled much less than food found on grocery shelves — an average three versus 11 times, respectively.

“Farmers markets are qw to cultivating a food-safe community, and they’re good for the local economy,” she said.

Boyar is working to add preordering and drive-by pickups at her markets. For updates, check her Facebook and Instagram pages or her weekly newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, email farmloversmarket.com.

As part of Boyar’s new safety protocol, she is marking lines on the ground fronting each booth to indicate where customers, one at a time, should stand in relation to folks behind the counter, a space of about 10 feet. Only farmers will be allowed to handle produce.

Her popular cafe seating areas will be closed, and all prepared food will be boxed for takeout. Her markets will also include hand-washing stations. Entrances will be marked off with caution tape and monitored to control the number of shoppers in the market space, to allow customers enough room to appropriately distance themselves from each other.

“We ask our customers to please be patient with us,” she said.

The farm bureau markets will adopt many similar measures, with hand sanitizers available for customers, gloves for farmers and a cleaning regimen for all vendors. Goods will be handled only by farmers, prepared food will be packaged for grab-and-go, food sampling has been halted and signs have been posted listing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the bureau is going steps further to keep the local food supply churning.

“We’ve got a lot of partners looking at how to support the ag industry and those in need,” said Miyamoto.

The bureau is working to get products to other farmers markets, supermarkets and into the hands of organizations that feed the needy, such as the Hawaii Foodbank and Aloha Harvest, to ensure that harvested food doesn’t go to waste. Farm Link, an online marketplace and distributor of locally grown food, is working to match up farmers with markets and is offering food delivery, he said.