Czech farmers markets, fearing collapse of family-run businesses, petition to reopen

Photo: Ladislav Bába / Czech Radio

Farmers markets began popping up on Czech town squares a decade ago, much to the delight of locals in search of seasonal produce, freshly baked goods, free-range eggs, craft beer – you name it. Along with other ‘non-essential’ businesses, they were ordered to close on March 10 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Farmers’ Market Association says its plea to reopen under strict hygienic conditions has been met with a stony silence, while bankruptcy looms for small, family-run businesses.

Photo: Ladislav Bába / Czech Radio
Prague’s first authentic farmers market opened on the first day of spring, ten years ago this March, at the Kulaťák “round square” by the Dejvická metro station. Some 15,000 people turned out that day, evidence perhaps not only of pent-up demand for delicacies but for a sense of belonging to a neighbourhood community.

Since 2010, dozens of such open-air markets have sprouted up throughout the Czech capital, along with and hundreds more on squares throughout the country. Now, many of the estimated 400 family-run farms and others supplying the markets risk collapse, Jiří Sedláček, chairman of the Association of Farmers Markets, told Czech Radio.

“We are asking for farmers markets to be allowed to reopen under a strict, highly hygienic model, for small family farms and producers to offer basic food supplies, just as the government has allowed supermarkets to remain open. That is our appeal.”

The Association has sent an appeal to Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch and Chief Hygienist Jarmila Rážová, which included detailed plans of how open-air markets could be run. So far, they have received no response, says Mr Sedláček, who manages the Náplavka, Kubáň and Heřmaňák farmers markets in Prague.

The plans includes a lay-out of a model farmers’ market which would ensure social-distancing measures are complied with, minimising interactions between vendors and customers, including the use of paper money and coins, and maximising hygienic conditions, such as by having hand disinfectant dispensers on site. Chairman Jiří Sedláček again:

Jiří Sedláček,  photo: archive of Czech Ministry of Agriculture
“We are running out of time, and there could be irreversible losses. For example, up to 300 family farms are selling at various Prague sites during the season, such as at Náplavka. Alternatives methods such as deliveries through e-shops will not save the small operators, as the profit would be marginal and conditions exhausting. That’s why for many small producers, farms and processors, sales at the market are crucial.”

The Farmers’ Market Association estimates that 40 percent of small Czech farms could go bust if not allowed to sell their goods at open markets. They argue that shutting their operations while keeping their brick-and-mortar competitors open amounts to discrimination against small producers, especially family farms. Furthermore, they say, open-air markets are actually safer to shop in than are brick-and-mortar stores.