Farmers market opens (copy)

Pat Poppe (left) and her daughter Julie Shipman (right) both of Mount Vernon speak with True Her at the True Garden flower stand in May 2019 on the opening day for the Mount Vernon Farmers Market. A modified market is set to open for the 2020 season on May 16 with new COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Farmers markets this spring will feel more like open-air grocery stores, without crowds, music or entertainment, and with a fraction of their usual vendors.

The Mount Vernon Farmers Market plans to open for the season on May 16, but with social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said market manager Tia Entrikin.

“Shoppers themselves cannot touch anything, only farmers can,” she said. “It will be shopping with your eyes and knowing what you’re going for. It’s not going to be your typical perusing.”

The plan is to allow 20 to 25 shoppers at a time inside the market, which will be held at the Skagit Riverwalk Plaza between Gates and Myrtle streets. Entrance and exits will be one-way only, and those waiting to enter the market will be asked to line up 6 feet apart.

Opening weekend will feature about 10 vendors — only farmers and food producers — but the plan is to slowly add vendors each week, up to a maximum of 18. She said the goal is to space vendor tents 10 feet apart.

In addition, hand-washing stations will be provided on site, and reusable bags will not be accepted to limit the spread of germs.

“It’s a lot more come with your purpose and try to get through,” Entrikin said. “We’re asking that you not bring your kids and just send one person from your family.”

Farmers markets are considered essential businesses, like grocery stores, and are allowed to operate during Gov. Jay Inslee’s “stay home, stay healthy order.” Vendors should be limited to those providing essential services, such as food, according to farmers market guidelines from the state Department of Health.

Flower farmers will be allowed to sell at farmers markets because they are part of the agriculture industry, which is considered essential, according to guidance released last week from the state Department of Agriculture.

As for artisan vendors selling nonessential items, Entrikin said the market is looking into options for online sales and pickup for those businesses.

The Anacortes Farmers Market has already launched an online storefront and plans to open for the season this Saturday with limited on-site vendors. In addition, hot food vendors will be allowed to provide take-out, said market manager Faye Litzinger.

Litzinger, who is also the manager for the Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market, said the Wednesday farmers market there is set to open May 20 with a safety plan and limited vendors.

All four farmers market in Skagit County — Anacortes, Concrete, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley — participate in SNAP Market Match, a program for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) / EBT customers. Markets will match what customers spend at the market with additional dollars to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

“(Farmers markets) are a pretty critical source of food for the community,” Litzinger said.

Farmers markets are also a critical part of many farmers’ businesses, said Colleen Donovan, executive director of Washington State Farmers Market Association. The cancellation of Seattle-area farmers markets in March and April has been a blow to many small farms, she said.

{p dir=”ltr”}”I think that there will be some hard consequences of this, but we’re working hard to make sure farms with products are able to reach customers,” she said.

{p dir=”ltr”}Donovan said customers should visualize what new farmers markets will look like — fewer vendors, social distancing and other safety measures.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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