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A Clean Getaway: A Primer on Market Sanitization

My name is Amy Gallo and I am the SFC Farmers’ Market Programming Manager. I wanted to write to you, our incredible and supportive community, so you know what all we are doing behind the scenes at your favorite farmers’ markets to stay safe for everyone.

As you know our day-of market protocols look different in the era of COVID-19 than before. Thanks to our loyal customers, the unflagging commitment of our vendors, and understanding and support from our local government, our markets have continued to stay open and provide the community with fresh local food throughout this quarantine and social distancing. You may be waiting in line and washing your hands before entry, but these are just a few of the safety efforts that you will see at market.

It all starts when market ends.

Saturday at 1 PM customers trickle out of the market area while vendors noisily load coolers, bins and boxes in the backs of trucks in anticipation of their long drive home. Tents get folded up, weights returned to sheds, and extension cords wrapped up in tight coils.

Any of our gear that encounters people during market is loaded into the SFC truck and returned to our storage facility for our new midweek sanitization routine. Walkie talkies, water coolers, tables, soap dispensers, bins of equipment, iPads, EBT machines, a-frame signs, and anything touched by a human hand is laid out behind our building, and that is where the deep clean begins.

The gear gets a first pass with good old-fashioned soap and water on most surfaces to remove any dirt and grime, in order to get a clean start before sanitizing. Signs and tables get hit with this treatment, hosed down, and are left to dry off in the sun. We use alcohol wipes on the electronic and other sensitive devices, leaving the equipment to air dry for maximum effectiveness. The rest of the equipment is cleaned and sprayed down with quaternary ammonia; a sanitizer most often used in restaurants. This pink liquid stays on surfaces wet for at least five minutes while being allowed to air dry. The benefit of this solution is that it doesn’t leave behind strong odors or harmful chemical residues, and is shown to be effective against SARS-CoV-2.

Any single-use equipment is thrown away between markets and replaced from our stores for next week’s use. Thanks to ATX Resource Network and The City of Austin, we have been able to procure reusable cloth face masks for our entire market staff and any vendors who need them. Our staff are bringing home their masks and washing them with hot soap and water before bringing them back to market. Personal Protective Equipment such as gloves, paper masks, and sanitizing wipes have been difficult to find but we have a team of folks ensuring we have enough safety supplies to cover our usage of these items every week.

Between procuring equipment, organizing, sanitizing and packing it all up again, our team is keeping a close watch on any governmental ordinances, other businesses’ responses, and current events in order to ensure we are using best practices for running farmers’ markets every weekend. This includes weekly calls with Texas Farmers Market and the City of Austin to make sure all our policies are working in sync to keep markets safe. Our staff has been attending group meetings such as webinars with the national Farmers’ Market Coalition on best practices around layout, crowd control, and communications in the COVID era, and we’ve been in frequent contact with market managers further afield than Central Texas, comparing notes and refining our approach to how our markets run.

All in all, we are doing our utmost to keep our customers, vendors, and market staff abreast of any changes as we keep running our markets safely, by operating as though anyone could be carrying COVID at any time.

Please follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay on top of what markets will look like this weekend, from updated protocols, market layouts, and weekly vendor specials.

We look forward to seeing you at market this weekend and every Saturday, come rain, shine, or global pandemic!