More and more farmers markets are beginning to open for the season but not without some changes to help keep vendors and customers safe while providing an essential service.
“I think it’s a great thing that we have farmers markets,” said John Sexton, market president for Field Fresh Farmers Market. “I’m really, really happy that we have those avenues and the vendors are still interested in coming and the customers are always inquiring what we’re going to do and when we’re going to be there.”
In March, the Maryland Department of Agriculture noted in a news release that farmers markets are considered an essential service and an important source of food for people.
“Farmers markets play a critical role in providing fresh, nutritious and locally-produced food products to customers across the state — especially those Marylanders who live in food deserts and those who rely on SNAP benefits to access fresh produce,” said Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder, according to the release. “It is important that we keep that supply line open while making sure we implement the same preventative measures used in grocery stores and other essential retail businesses.”
Field Fresh Farmers Market is opening April 25 at Lot A of the Frederick Fairgrounds, which is a change in location that Sexton said will allow for better spacing between vendors. Typically, the market has about 30 vendors but this year Sexton said they’re expecting about 20 to start off.
Several changes are in place, including limiting the number of customers vendors can have at a stand to one at a time, requiring vendors to use hand sanitizer between customers and having vendors clean surfaces, such as tables or counters, that customers come in contact with between each person.
Vendors will also be the only people allowed to handle products.
“The customer can pick what they want but they’re not going to be allowed to touch anything,” Sexton said.
There will be hand sanitizer available for customers, signs to remind them of the rules and lines marked off to show where they can stand to wait at vendors.
At the New Market Farmers Market, there will be similar changes in place.
For one, the market has moved and will now be located on the sidewalks of Main Street in Downtown New Market.
Vendors will be spaced out and people will be asked to approach vendors one at a time.
Jennifer Runkles, market manager for New Market Farmers Market and chair of the New Market Green Team, which runs the market program, said they’re also asking that people not put their bags or purses on counters or tables as well as to avoid using their cellphones while visiting vendors.
“If [people] are bringing their children to the market, we are asking the children to modify a little bit about what they do just to help out,” Runkles added.
Children will be asked to clasp their hands together and avoid touching items at the market.
People are being asked to use their eyes to shop and touch only what they intend to buy and take home, “just to try to keep the germs down a little bit more.”
“Vendors will be making accommodations as needed,” Runkles said.
She said the Green Team feels it’s important to continue providing this service to people during COVID-19.
“We have a lot of local farms and artisans and bakers that still have a lot of goods to be purchased during this season and they need an outlet to display them as well as our community needs those products and services,” Runkles said, adding that grocery stores have been overwhelmed and New Market needs another outlet to supplement.
Sexton of Field Fresh Farmers Market also said it’s important to provide farmers markets to the public.
He sells meat products and said more people than normal are coming to him now while the market is closed.
“They don’t want to go into the stores as much,” he said. “They prefer the open air.”
While farmers markets often include socializing, Sexton said people should avoid gathering.
“The farmers market’s a very social thing,” he said. “We have lots of people come and spend quite a few hours there just visiting with their friends and stuff and we’re going to try to discourage as much of that as we can.”
But overall, Sexton said they’re expecting a good year for vendors and he only hopes that they won’t be overwhelmed with customers and have to restrict how many people can be at the market at one time.
Runkles said people planning on attending the New Market Farmers Market should sign up for dates on Facebook so they can show their support as well as provide a headcount so vendors can be prepared.
“We know that times are difficult but we want to join together in proper distancing but show our support as a community by coming out to the market,” she said. “It’s local, it’s downtown, it’s all within walking distance of all the neighborhoods.”