VANCOUVER -- Farmers' markets in B.C. will soon have the ability to move to online sales for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BC Association of Farmers' Markets will be helping its members transition to a web-based sales platform so farmers can continue to sell their goods. The markets have been declared an essential service by the provincial government.

"Moving farmers markets online will help ensure the health and safety of vendors and consumers, while still providing the same fresh and local food that families all over the province count on," Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham said in a news release.

On Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued an order stating that farmers' markets would only be allowed to sell food, and other vendors would not be allowed to sell their goods.

"Vendors of all other merchandise at these events are prohibited," she said. "This is recognition of how important it is for us to be able access locally-grown and produced food and the farmers' markets are an important part of that. But we don't want them to be areas where people are going and mingling in large groups because of the risk right now that entails."

The BCAFM has 145 members, and the vendors will be eligible to receive provincial funding to transition their businesses online. The B.C. government is providing $55,000 to the association to help its members set up their digital stores.

The online model will also help the markets establish new pick-up and delivery protocols or allow for vendors to drop off items directly to customers.

Markets that are open to the public are required to limit gatherings to 50 people or less within small market areas. Larger markets that span several streets or blocks have been asked to cordon off areas and limit access to allow for physical distancing.

Food samples are no longer allowed, and activities that promote groups of people gathering together like musical performances must also be cancelled.

Markets have also been told to boost their cleaning and disinfection protocols, which includes bathrooms and other "high touch" surface areas in the markets. They have also been told to restrict entry to anyone who appears to be sick.