Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson on Thursday cleared up ambiguity regarding the status of the St. Thomas farmers market, saying the market on St. Thomas in Market Square will be open Saturday.
Nelson explained during a phone interview with the Source that he and the governor had been in several conversations which ended with Nelson being comfortable making the decision.
After being held in Market Square on Saturday, the market will, starting on April 4, be held in Bordeaux on St. Thomas, the usual location on the island’s west end, Nelson said.
Last Friday, after some back and forth between the Office of the Governor and the Agriculture Department, the Source reported that local farmers markets would be shut down as part of the government’s coronavirus response.
Then, in a coronavirus response press briefing Monday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said grocery stores and food markets had been deemed essential, and therefore could remain open even as bars and restaurants were closed except for drive-through or take-out.
That sounded like good news for farmers, who learned unofficially from a smattering of phone calls and the Source story last Friday they were banned from bringing their goods to the marketplaces overseen by Agriculture. On St. Croix, a sign was posted early Saturday morning saying, “Please be advised, due to the state of emergency declared by our honorable Governor Albert Bryan and the risk associated with the COVID-19 virus this market will be closed until further notice.”
However, confusion continued into this week – even after it seemed the closure was lifted – when on Wednesday Sen. Allison DeGazon sent out a press release announcing a day ahead of Agriculture that, while Estate La Reine farmers market where the sign was posted would open Saturday, “Due to circumstances, the St. Thomas market will remain closed, however, farmers are encouraged to use their farm sites to sell produce.”
The release was issued based on a conversation DeGazon had with Nelson.
“You know those senators,” Nelson told the Source, having been one himself, “they like to get out there ahead.”
“We are working with We Grow Food, the usual custodians of the Bordeaux market to make this happen,” he said.
However, Nelson urged farmers to sell from their own farms wherever possible. But, he said, if they can’t, “we won’t chase anyone away.”
“We cannot interrupt the food supply,” Nelson said. But he and the governor’s first concern, as expressed by both of them, is the vulnerability of the people who populate the markets.
In making the decision to close the markets last week, Bryan said, “The concern is the vendors and public in close proximity and the social atmosphere it creates. The other concern is the demographic that occasions the market is primarily more vulnerable to the virus.”
Nelson clarified Thursday that the farmers tend to skew a bit older.
He said a press release further clarifying the issue will be sent. The Source will publish further details as they are received.
The usual biweekly Bordeaux market will be open Sunday.