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Agritourism Can Sidestep Coronavirus Rules. Some Still Comply


It’s a beautiful Saturday morning at the St. Matthews Farmer's Market, where Donna Gritton has set up her stand selling “Granny’s Delights.” She comes in every week from her farm in Nelson County to sell squash, zucchini, tomatoes and more.

This standing Saturday morning appointment is a good source of income, so she’s glad they were able to open this year. But as a “member of the at-risk generation,” as she puts it, she’s also glad that the market is enforcing strict rules.

Everyone is wearing masks, there’s hand sanitizer everywhere and market staff help keep the lines socially distanced.

“I can’t imagine what could happen if people weren’t wearing masks,” Gritton said. “It wouldn’t take one or two to get a whole disaster going.”

Re-opening this year required changing their whole thinking about the market's role in the community, market director Stephen Yates said.

“This market was built on prepared food, and music, and people hanging out,” Yates said. “This year, we’ve had to change people’s adult behavior and say ... you come in, you point to the products, you don’t touch them, you buy your stuff, and you go home.”

Yates said their rules comply with CDC recommendations, but also the state’s rules for safely reopening. Most of those rules have come in the form of executive orders from Gov. Andy Beshear.

But now, technically, the farmer's market doesn’t have to follow any of those executive orders. On Thursday, Scott County Circuit Judge Brian Privett issued a temporary restraining order saying agritourism businesses specifically do not have to comply with executive orders related to coronavirus.

There are 548 registered agritourism businesses in Kentucky, ranging from farmers markets, to wineries and distilleries, to race tracks like Churchill Downs and Keeneland.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles on behalf of Evans Orchard and Cider Mill, in Georgetown, Ky. Attorney General Daniel Cameron also signed onto the suit.

The lawsuit argued that Beshear’s executive orders were unlawful and unconstitutional because they did not go through the emergency administrative regulation process, which allows for public comment and legislative review.

“It is my sincere belief that the Beshear administration has erred and violated Kentucky law with the executive orders issued by the Governor’s Office,” Quarles said in a recent press conference. “They have completely left the General Assembly out of their decision making process.”

In his press briefing Thursday, Beshear strongly criticized the ruling.

“This is dangerous and devastating,” Beshear said. “And for a court to say, ‘I guess I just don’t believe the virus exists and you don't have to do anything, no social distancing, nothing else,’ is absolutely irresponsible.”

Beshear’s office appealed the ruling on Friday, the same day his mandatory mask requirement went into effect. Attorney General Cameron has asked Judge Privett to weigh in on whether the mask order should be similarly restrained.

In a statement, Quarles said this lawsuit is about equal treatment under the law, and giving the public and the legislature a chance to weigh in on regulations is required. He said he still wants everyone to follow CDC guidelines, and put public health first.

Beshear said in his briefing that he believes the state’s distilleries will continue to follow the rules he has laid out. Churchill Downs did not respond to request for comment, and Keeneland said its policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation.

At the St. Matthews Farmer's Market, Yates has been paying attention to the court case. He was the state’s first agritourism director, back in 2007, so he’s interested to see how it plays out. But like many of the state's markets, St. Matthews isn't going to change the rules: masks, social distancing, and lots of sanitation.

He said they get about 1,000 visitors a week, half as many as usual. But those who do show up seem to appreciate the strict rules and he feels he has a responsibility to keep his patrons safe.

And vendors said it’s important that they be able to stay open. José Campo sells his Kentuxican Bourbon Hot Sauce and salsa at the market every weekend. He said he's glad to be at the St. Matthews Farmers Market, because not all markets are being as strict.

“The market’s done a good job enforcing the rules,” he said. “We try to follow the rules so we don’t get shut down.”

Even with fewer patrons, he said a few hours at the farmers market on Saturday can mean grocery money for the week. Plus, it’s good marketing and relationship building, and it gets his kids out of the house for a bit. On Saturday he was there with his 10-year-old, Sofia, also wearing a mask.

“It’s good because it helps the germs stay away,” she said. “It is a little bit difficult to eat and stuff, but it’s really good for everybody here.”

She said, it’s simple: she’s wearing a mask this summer, so she can see her friends back at school this fall.

Note: This headline has been changed since a previous version.