Like most activities in the social distancing era, shopping at the local farmers market this summer is going to look and feel quite different.
In an effort to keep vendors, staff, volunteers and customers safe, farmers markets across the Inland Northwest are implementing safety measures like well-spaced layouts, capacity caps and bans on product sampling and handling. There won't be any live music or picnic tables, either, at least for many weeks. Some markets are asking customers to wear masks, while others encourage people to order online for a drive-through pickup. Pets also need to stay home, and only one person per household should visit at a time.
In Spokane's South Perry District, the neighborhood's Thursday Market began its 14th season May 7 with about 10 fewer vendors than last year's market opening, says Executive Director Karyna Goldsmith. The vendor reduction is largely due to the greater distance required between stalls.
"Purely in terms of physical layout, there is more space between vendors, and one single entrance and one single exit, and there is a sanitizing station for people to use," Goldsmith explains.
The Thursday Market also moved from its usual home in the parking lot of the Shop cafe to a parking lot off Tenth Avenue, adjacent to Grant Park.
"We have chalk marks on the sidewalk to indicate [safe] distance and signs all over to give shoppers the rundown of the etiquette, which is consistent with what is happening everywhere at grocery stores, so people get it," Goldsmith says.
Considered an essential business under both Washington and Idaho guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, farmers markets are allowed to operate because of the fresh produce and other regionally sourced food products vendors offer.
In both states, these guidelines restrict farmers market vendors to those that sell food or personal hygiene-related items. Cut flowers and vegetable starts are allowed. Any entertainment or educational activities, as well as public seating, however, are prohibited to discourage shoppers from gathering and lingering.
Even with these restrictions in place, paired with the need for markets to space vendors at least six feet (Washington) to 10 feet (Idaho) apart across their footprint, demand from local businesses to become vendors remains high.
"We have had a lot of small businesses reach out to us in the last couple weeks because they are struggling so much to find that support because of the shutdown and different stages of phasing; they just want that exposure at the market," Goldsmith says. "And shoppers want the open-air environment."
Despite these many new challenges, though, the South Perry market's first day saw a solid turnout.
"There were less shoppers, but they definitely spent more," she says. "By the end of the market most people were sold out."
The Thursday Market has plans to increase its vendor list as the season continues, a trend that's already common for area markets since many crops aren't harvested until mid to late summer.
"We really do expect to grow a lot, and how that looks and when is sort of completely unknown, but it absolutely is the plan," Goldsmith notes.
Farmers markets in the Inland Northwest got a helpful preview of what to expect during pandemic-restricted operations before the region's season even kicked off, thanks to Seattle.
Though considered essential statewide, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan temporarily banned farmers markets from operating for a month, starting March 13, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at public gatherings.
Rob Allen, board president of the Inland Northwest Farmers Market Association and founder of the Fairwood Farmers Market in North Spokane, says the association's members followed in Seattle's markets' footsteps by sending a letter to the Spokane Regional Health District outlining similar safety plans they intended to follow.
"We wholeheartedly endorsed and are all operating under four pages of guidelines handed down by the health district," Allen says.
The association also received a $7,500 grant from Northwest Farm Credit Services that allowed it to purchase handwashing stations, sanitation supplies, signage, face masks and other supplies to distribute to its 10 members.
Markets across the state line in Idaho don't look or feel much different from those in Eastern Washington this season.
In Moscow, home to a city-organized market now in its 43rd year, organizers opted to start the season off with a few weeks of pickup-only shopping before opening its in-person market on June 6. The new "Motor-in Moscow Farmers Market" format is set to continue through this year's season, allowing shoppers to pre-order online for contactless pickup on market day.
The popular Kootenai County Farmers Market in Coeur d'Alene is also offering a pre-order and pickup option, says its manager Natalie Selbe. In Washington, local startup Share Farm (online at share.farm) is accepting online ordering for pickup at the Kendall Yards Night Market and the Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and Fairwood farmers markets.
Starting off with pickup-only shopping gave Moscow's market more time to prepare itself and the community for modified operations, says the city's community events manager Amanda Argona.
Moscow's market will allow a maximum of 50 customers inside its shopping area, and plans to set up hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations, along with plenty of signage about social distancing.
"Normally [the market] is this lovely weekend event that folks can come down to, but we're trying to promote efficient shopping and seeing one household member at a time," Argona says. "Hopefully we can get back to the market we know and love, but it's modified for the time being."
Area farmers and food producers are also grateful they can continue to reach customers via markets, despite current challenges and changes.
"The one thing I'd want to emphasize is how appreciative our vendors are of the customers coming even though it's a weird year," Selbe says. "Supporting and shopping local is making a big difference to the vendors, and they are willing to adjust to whatever is necessary." ♦
Chewelah Farmers Market
Fridays from 11 am-3:30 pm through Oct. 16. At Chewelah City Park. chewelahfarmersmarket.com
Clayton Farmers Market
Sundays from 11-4 pm, June 7 through Sept. 27. At the Clayton Fairgrounds, 4616 Wallbridge Rd. Facebook: Clayton Farmers Market and Small Farm Animals
Emerson-Garfield Farmers Market
Fridays from 3-7 pm, June 5 through Sept. 25. At the IEL Adult Education Center, 2310 N. Monroe St., Spokane. market.emersongarfield.org
Fairwood Farmers Market
Tuesdays from 3-7 pm through Oct. 13. At the Fairwood Shopping Center, 319 W. Hastings Rd., Spokane. fairwoodfarmersmarket.org
Hillyard Farmers Market
Mondays from 3-7 pm, June 22 through Oct. 19. At 5102 N. Market St., Spokane. facebook.com/hillyardfarmersmarket
Kendall Yards Night Market
Wednesdays from 5-8 pm through Sept. 30. On West Summit Parkway between Cedar Street and Adams Alley, downtown Spokane. kendallnightmarket.org
Kootenai Farmers Market
Saturdays from 9 am-1:30 pm through October (Highway 95 and Prairie, Hayden) and Wednesdays from 4-7 pm through September (Fifth and Sherman, downtown Coeur d'Alene). kootenaifarmersmarkets.org
Liberty Lake Farmers Market
Saturdays from 9 am-1 pm, June 6 through Oct. 10. At Town Square Park, 1421 N. Meadowwood Ln. libertylakefarmersmarket.com
Millwood Farmers Market
Wednesdays from 3-7 pm through Sept. 30. At Millwood Park, 9103 E. Frederick Ave. farmersmarket.millwoodnow.org
Moscow Farmers Market
Saturdays from 8 am-1 pm, June 6 through October. At Friendship Square, Fourth Avenue and Main Street. ci.moscow.id.us
N.E.W. Farmers Market
Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 am-1 pm through October. At 121 E. Astor St., Colville. newfarmersmarket.org
Newport Farmers Market
Saturdays from 9 am-1 pm through October. At 236 S. Union Ave., Newport. Facebook: Newport Farmers Market
Pullman Farmers Market
Wednesdays from 3:30-6:30 pm through Oct. 14. At the Brelsford WSU Visitor Center, 150 E. Spring St. facebook.com/pullmanmarket
Sandpoint Farmers Market
Saturdays from 9 am-1 pm through Oct. 10. At 231 N. Third Ave. (city lot across from Joel’s Mexican). sandpointfarmersmarket.com
South Perry Thursday Market
Thursdays from 3-7 pm through Oct. 29. At Perry St. and Tenth Ave. (behind the Lantern Taphouse), Spokane. thursdaymarket.org
Spokane Farmers Market
Saturdays from 8 am-1 pm through Oct. 31; Wednesdays from 8 am-1 pm, June 10 through Oct. 28. At 20 W. Fifth Ave. spokanefarmersmarket.org
Spokane Valley Farmers Market
Fridays from 5-8 pm, June 5 through Sept. 18. At CenterPlace Regional Event Center, 2426 N. Discovery Place. spokanevalleyfarmersmarket.org
Wonder Saturday Market
Saturdays from noon-4 pm, June 6 through October 10. At the Wonder Building, 835 N. Post St., Spokane. wondersaturdaymarket.com