Lori Farnsworth lives in Alexandria.

This year, we have seen an early spring, and the produce already is coming in. Usually, as the growing season continues, my market basket gets fuller and heavier with the items that will sustain my family through the coming week.

No more.

In response to legitimate concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), in his March 23 emergency order, closed Virginia’s farmers markets, deeming them nonessential.

So the Old Town Farmers’ Market, in operation for more than 260 years and open every Saturday in the time I have lived in Alexandria, rain or shine, is off — except for prepaid, online orders — until further notice.

The net effect is that fresh produce will rot and farmers will suffer because of a misguided categorization that groups farmers markets with nonessential services. An allowance for prepaid orders made days in advance is not a realistic alternative for the majority of farmers or shoppers. For a more enlightened approach, Northam only need look at what D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did in the District by creating guidelines not allowing nonessential craft vendors but retaining essential vendors who sell fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products.

Targeting small farmers who sell directly to consumers in an outdoor market setting is discriminatory. These farmers travel long distances and leave in the wee hours of the morning, sometimes as early as 3, to bring the produce straight from the farm to the customer. These “nonessential” farmers work smaller plots of land and grow a variety of crops, which is better for the environment as compared with the monoculture model widely practiced by agribusiness.

When social-distancing guidelines are practiced, an outdoor venue is actually a healthier environment for shopping for food that is essential to life. When small farms are lost, we all lose.

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