By Gabriel Pietrorazio, Masters Degree Candidate at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
Every Sunday, vendors from all around Maryland venture to Roosevelt Center at 9 a.m. to set up their stands in the parking lot for the Greenbelt Farmers Market. But 2020 is an unprecedented season for the market – jugs full of hand sanitizer, face masks, one-way paths and fresh produce are the new normal, and it’s been that way for quite some time. It has been more than three months, and the farmers have comfortably settled into their same old spots since mid-May.
So far, it seems to be working out smoothly, according to Brindisi Chan, a volunteer with Greenbelt Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) Volunteers from C.E.R.T. are overseeing public safety both in and outside the designated market area, ensuring that patrons are abiding by the rules and protocols that the organization has recommended to the market after assessing the space before the start of this peculiar season.
“The early months or weeks of the market, the C.E.R.T. team would make some recommendations on what could make the market smoother,” she explained, and they were considered by Market Master Frances Ippoliti in her planning.
Chan is never shy or afraid to speak her mind. If she ever encounters a violation, she calmly approaches the person but speaks with a strong, stern voice. It’s her job, but sometimes she still gets flak for speaking up. “We do see some attitude. We still do have some people trying to sneak into the exit or seeing a hole in the fence,” she recalled. In some cases, patrons have even attempted to crawl underneath the yellow caution tape that stretches around the enclosed marketplace.
Even now, it still baffles her whenever she witnesses shoppers trying to sneak in. “I’m like, there’s caution tape here for a reason,” Chan said. But at the Greenbelt Farmers Market, everyone must play by the same rules.”
With a long line to enter that loops around the entrance, sandwich board signs are plastered along the way reminding the public about the protocols that apply every single weekend.
But for those who are not familiar with the new farmers market procedures, Chan cheerfully greets them with a smile and simply converses with them while they’re waiting in line. She is aware that enforcement cannot be achieved solely through strict talks, which is why she believes in teaching and educating customers in a friendly fashion.
“I’ll go out to the front lines if it’s really long and ask if there’s anyone new to the market this season and go over the guidelines because not all of them go online and read the instructions there. Not all of them read the poster boards. So having an actual person answer any questions, be friendly, welcome them to market and then go through some of the rules really helps,” she elaborated.
There are also volunteers stationed at the front entrance underneath a pair of tents, reminding customers about COVID-19 precautions, checking for masks, and requiring patrons to get a glob of alcoholic hand sanitizer to wash their hands.
“Usually I have some other volunteers here as a part of my C.E.R.T. group,” Chan said. But on this particular Sunday, she was all by herself. Yet she’s never truly alone, since Chan remains in constant contact with Ippoliti by using a corded two-way radio.
Enforcement of the rules can get tricky with just one volunteer on-site but fortunately for Chan and Ippoliti, there have not been any serious situations to be dealt with. “We haven’t had anything bad happen yet,” Chan said.
Although no issues have formally occurred, the Greenbelt Police Department remains ready and alert to cooperate at a moment’s notice, just a phone call away.
George Mathews, a public information officer for the police, explained in an email that the department “has no direct authority to arrest or charge for a violation,” referring to Governor Larry Hogan’s executive order dated September 1 addressing how Maryland could initiate Phase Three reopening. But even with the ‘Free State’ entering its final phase, not much has changed when it comes to the guiding procedures at outdoor farmers markets, like the one in Greenbelt.
The executive order actually “did not change the existing face covering requirements,” which already “required employees handling or selling food” to wear face coverings while outside and “maintain proper social distancing,” according to Mathews. Any attempt to enforce Hogan’s order would have to come at the directive of State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County Aisha N. Braveboy, who so far has issued no directive authorizing local agencies to arrest noncompliant mask wearing citizens.
So instead of charging anyone with crimes, the department’s stance has remained steady since the start of the pandemic. “We attempt to educate and encourage to gain compliance,” Mathews wrote. In the event of a COVID-19 violation at the market, their guiding practices and training on handling and remediating situations at commercial locations like stores and shopping centers would apply here.
Even though charges cannot be formally filed, the Department does have other options. “We could order them to leave for the day – basically ban them for that day. If they failed to comply with orders to leave, we could arrest them for trespassing, but that would be a last case situation,” Mathews added.
This post is one of a series on the topic of food insecurity by Gabriel Pietrorazio for a class in Public Affairs Reporting.
NOTE: By contributing these pandemic stories, photos, et cetera, Greenbelters are making an unconditional donation of the material to the nonprofit Greenbelt Online.org and the Greenbelt Museum/City of Greenbelt, which reserve the right to keep, lend, or otherwise dispose of the donated material, and may use the material on our website, for social media or other postings, in promotional materials or in future exhibits.