Local officials and market managers are navigating a number of challenges as they prepare for the season.

The impacts of COVID-19 have been especially brutal in some of the state’s older urban centers, such as Lawrence, a densely populated city with the sixth-highest rate of COVID cases in the state, according to Department of Public Health data.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that nearly 44% of households receive public assistance to pay for food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the highest percentage in the state, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Like other farmers markets around Massachusetts, Lawrence’s provides a convenient way for SNAP recipients to get more bang for their food buck through the Healthy Incentives Program, a state initiative that provides a dollar-for-dollar match for each SNAP dollar spent on targeted fruits and vegetables purchased at Massachusetts farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and community-supported agriculture programs.

With its traditional farmers market on hold during the pandemic, Groundwork Lawrence, which runs the city’s market, found a creative solution to keep SNAP and HIP benefits flowing. Each Wednesday, shoppers can order produce from two local farmers and then pay for and pick up their orders at the Lawrence Senior Center parking lot the next day. The program, which allows pre-orders of four different produce assortments at two price points, was scheduled to run through the end of May.

“The Groundwork Lawrence Farmers Market has always been a strong partner in ensuring access to healthy, fresh food for our community,” said Mayor Dan Rivera. “This sentiment has never been more valid than in these challenging times. The extra precautions for Groundwork Lawrence’s Virtual Farmers Market amid COVID-19 offers residents a safe way to access fresh produce without having to go to a congested grocery store at a time when social distancing is so crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Written by Lisa Capone