Chicago Farmers Market Collective launches virtual market to support local farmers, supply fresh produce during COVID-19 lockdown

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Independent farmers are feeling the economic impact of COVID-19, which forced a lockdown just before the season began for spring farmers markets. But the Chicago Farmers Market Collective is working to replace that income through a virtual marketplace.

"Farmers are struggling, same as everyone, in that there is a lot of ambiguity," said Stef Funk, program coordinator for Plant Chicago, an environmental nonprofit in Back of the Yards.

Plant Chicago established the Chicago Farmers Market Collective two years ago to help vendors and farmers throughout the Chicago area connect and share resources.

After the lockdown began and Illinois was put under a shelter-in-place order, Plant Chicago helped farmers pivot toward online sales.

"Us already being in place meant that we were able to hit the ground running and put together an online farmers market in less than a week," Funk said.

The Chicago Farmers Market Collective features markets from neighborhoods all around the city. Each market offers a combination of delivery and pick-up options.
Most vendors are also selling shares in their CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, which operate like subscription services for fresh produce.

Plant Chicago is also serving as a pick up location to serve customers paying with EBT Link Cards.
For farmers like Dulce and Juan Morales, the co-founders of Cedillo's Fresh Produce in Englewood, these virtual markets are providing hope that small farms can survive this lockdown.

"As a low-income immigrant family, we know how it is to battle to obtain organic produce," said Morales. "That's why we're doing our best to serve the community."

Cedillo's Fresh Produce doesn't even have a steady supply of water right now, since the lockdown resulted in a delay in getting water turned on. They've been relying on water saved from snow and rainfall over the winter, but that supply will run out soon.
Farms are also suffering from lack of labor, as many depend on part time workers or volunteers.

Without a supply of water and labor, the Morales family is worried about the future viability of the farm.

"All the community organizers are trying their best," Dulce Morales said. "Now we need the community to come and support us, support our mission, and help us move forward."

The Chicago Farmers Market Collective currently includes seven online farmers markets in: Back of the Yards, Lincoln Park, Logan Square, McKinley Park, Rogers Park, West Loop and Woodlawn. Funk said that Plant Chicago is expecting even more farmers markets to join the virtual marketplace soon.
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