Oxford Community Market provides a safe and healthy alternative food source

Published 8:00 am Saturday, April 25, 2020

Before the COVID-19 crisis struck Mississippi, market director Betsy Chapman was already prepared for what it might do to the Oxford Community Market.  

During the first week of March, Chapman said she began implementing social distancing and safety measures at the market.  

“Before the official orders went into place, we wanted to make sure we had assessed our own capacity to operate safely and minimize risk for our customers and farmers,” Chapman said. “My first concern was, all this is happening right as we’re about to have our spring grand opening and all the spring crops are about to start coming in.”  

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Some of those guidelines and rules Chapman put into place consisted of allowing only a certain number of customers into the pavilion at a time, and doing a one-in-one-out system with people lined up outside. Flags are marked six feet apart for people to practice social distancing while waiting. 

Other rules included asking customers to not handle the items at each booth, instead allowing the vendor to bag any purchased items for them and practicing good hygiene with handwashing, gloves and masks as needed. Vendors are also asked to thoroughly wash all agricultural products before consumption and use practices to allow for safe handling of food. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there has not been any evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 through food. 

Luckily for all the local farmers, the market was allowed to stay open and was deemed an essential business once the City of Oxford implemented its own resolutions and when Governor Tate Reeves implemented the statewide shelter-in place. 

 Every Tuesday afternoon at the Old Armory Pavilion, the market opens for three and-a-half hours and provides farm to table food options that are grown in Lafayette County and surrounding areas.  

The ability to continue to provide that service was vital for the local farmers and for Chapman herself.  

“We were hoping that markets would be declared essential services and we knew that was happening in other states,” Chapman said. “We were following guidelines from the Farmers Market Coalition. We were studying and researching what other markets were doing. … After a couple weeks of kind of practicing we felt like, ‘Yeah, okay, we can do this.’ We can be sure everyone’s safe. We can minimize these risks as much as we possibly can and feel comfortable staying open.”  

Grocery stores have also been deemed essential businesses since the beginning of the pandemic. The ability to provide food and keep supplies on the shelves at grocery stores has been tough. Keeping stores safe by enacting social distancing measures and asking employees to implement safe practices has also been a struggle.   

With the community market, it is in an open-air venue and Chapman allows only a certain number of vendors, which are lined up against the edges of the space. Providing food that customers know has come straight from the farm to the vendor’s tables is another positive aspect to choosing to shop at the market instead of a grocery story, according to Chapman.  

“This was the first time most of us have experienced seeing empty shelves at the grocery stores,” Chapman said. “With all of these things happening, there is a natural interest in food safety and where your food is coming from. Who all has touched it before it gets to your table and how far it traveled to get to you? We saw an incredible response from people shopping at the market; people seriously shopping for their families like they would at a grocery store.”  

There was an initial fear that people may not come to the market during this crisis, but Chapman said there has been a steady flow of customers every week.  

Having to alter and tailor how the market is run during this time, Chapman said she had to take away some of the things that make the market unique. For example, live music performances and cooking classes and exhibitions have been canceled until it is safe to bring them back.  

“We shifted from being a community gathering place to strictly becoming a place to get local food,” Chapman said. 

It has been a family effort to continue to safely provide local food to members of the community on a weekly basis. Chapman’s daughter, Lilly, has been helping put the market on each week. Lilly is a sophomore at Ole Miss, but with the campus closed for the remainder of the spring semester, she has had more time to help her mother. 

For more information, visit Oxford Community Market’s Facebook page. It is open from 3 to 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday.