The state Department of Agriculture, a day before the Brick Farmers Market opened for its 2021 season, wrote a letter to township officials, telling them that mask mandates should be enforced at the outdoor event at Windward Beach Park, drawing a lengthy response from Mayor John Ducey.
“As we begin to enter the New Jersey Farmers Market season, please note Governor Murphy’s executive orders and CDC guidelines with regards to large outdoor gatherings,” the letter, obtained by Shorebeat, states. “Current guidelines indicate that wearing a mask remains in effect as it relates to large outdoor gatherings especially if social distancing cannot be maintained. While it may be appropriate to remove masks while seated and dining or drinking, all farmers, vendors and market customers should continue to wear a mask while at the market regardless of vaccination status.”
The letter was signed by Douglas H. Fisher, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
In response, Ducey said the township has adopted protocols over the last year to ensure residents are safe at events, and developed plans that allowed for a successful 20 week-long Farmers Market season last summer, in addition to a full beach season without any incidents related to coronavirus spread.
“I write today to respectfully request that you revisit the edict issued on April 30, 2021 that requires all farmers, vendors and market customers wear a mask for this year’s Farmers Market season,” Ducey’s letter said. “I urge you to allow each event host to make the determination based on state and CDC guidelines, individual event modifications and common sense.”
Brick Township “have no intention of approving behavior that would diminish our commitment to public safety and risk our market’s future,” he said, adding that the township recognizes how fortunate it is to be able to host such a market for its residents.
Face masks were required for the 2020 season and enforced, according to township officials.
“I feel strongly that the 2021 guidelines should be revisited to reflect the tremendous progress we have made as a nation and a state in managing this pandemic,” the mayor wrote. “The township’s preferred choice is to encourage face masks but to make it optional.”
Ducey said the township based the 2021 regulations for the Farmers Market on the CDC’s guidance document “Organizing Large Events and Gatherings” as well as two companion documents distributed by the federal agency. The township, he said, made modifications to this year’s Farmers Market which comport with the CDC guidelines.
“For example, the township modified the market’s layout to one-way and located the vendors throughout the circular walkway at Windward Beach Park,” Ducey’s letter stated. “This enabled the township to spread out vendors along the route with more than ample space between. Signage was installed throughout the route reminding people of the social distancing requirement. The layout allows for lines to queue when vendors are busy – lines are accommodated comfortably and with adequate spacing to without impeding pedestrian flow.”
The township also modified the hours of the Farmers Market this year, changed its entry point, employed a meandering walkway and set up a layout that allows customers to browse without congregated closely. Market employees and vendors already wear masks, and masks are distributed for free to those who wish to wear them. Physical barriers are also in place to separate products from shoppers, preventing them from touching products before buying them.
“By taking away our right to make the best decisions for our town, you are illustrating the disconnect that exists between people on the ground in the middle of this pandemic, our citizens, and people who think they know best,” the letter continued.
Ducey went on to write: “If you feel confident that global rules are necessary to mandate, then I request you deploy resources to be at our market and explain why you feel they are necessary. Our shoppers have seen firsthand the changes we have made to the market to ensure their safety. Their support has been unwavering. But when you take decisions out of our hand with no support, you create distrust and negativity that we find unnecessary and unwarranted.”
Ducey ended the letter with a reiteration of his request for the state to reconsider the mask mandate. The letter was also forwarded to Gov. Phil Murphy and Joanne Bergin, the township’s Business Administrator.