Farmers markets in Skagit County will look this season closer to how they did prepandemic, but will continue to operate under COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Markets in Anacortes, Concrete, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley plan to boost the number of vendors at their markets, and some will offer live performances.
“Each of the markets will probably look a little different, “ said Jeremy Kindlund, president of the Skagit Valley Farmers Market Coalition. “They will be safer and more robust than last year.”
He said even though restrictions limited farmers markets in 2020, open-air shopping and buying from local farmers proved popular during the pandemic.
“The good news was the vendors that were there did really well,” Kindlund said.
The Anacortes Farmers Market opened last Saturday, the first Skagit market to open this season.
Market director Faye Litzinger said in an email that the market will have 40 to 70 vendors each week, on par with the number of vendors in 2019. The market will offer on-site dining in a designated café area.
“We continue to ask our customers to wear appropriate facial coverings, properly distance while on site, utilize our handwashing stations, stay home if ill, and other basic hygiene as we did last season,” Litzinger wrote in her email.
Last Saturday, the Anacortes band Ebb, Slack and Flood entertained a crowd with reggae and funk music at a COVID-19-safe distance.
Live performances are allowed under the state’s reopening plan as long as performers without masks maintain a distance of at least 20 feet from the audience. Ten feet is required for masked performers.
The Mount Vernon Farmers Market is set to open for the season on Saturday, May 15, at the Skagit Riverwalk Plaza.
Market manager Tia Entrikin said the market will have 45 vendors, including farmers, artisans and businesses selling hot food and packaged foods. Skagit nonprofits will also have booths.
“We actually have a lot of new vendors because people picked up new hobbies during the pandemic,” she said.
Food will be to-go only, and the market has no plans to offer live music.
Entrikin said the market was able to increase the number of vendors by about 20 thanks to the state’s more flexible COVID-19 rules. Those rules allow booths to be spaced less than 6 feet apart if they have a physical barrier separating them.
Limitations in 2020 affected the market financially. With fewer vendors, the market lost the revenue it would have earned from vendor fees, she said.
Total market sales decreased by about 57% in 2020, according to the Mount Vernon Farmers Market’s annual report.
To help with those impacts, the market received a $2,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration and $1,500 in CARES Act funding, according to the report.
This spring, the state Department of Agriculture offered additional relief grants to farmers markets and agriculture-related businesses.
Sedro-Woolley & Concrete
The Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market will kick off on Wednesday, May 19, at Hammer Heritage Square.
Kindlund, manager of the Sedro-Woolley market, said he hopes to have a full market of 20 vendors at season’s peak. The market is exploring live music options.
The Concrete Saturday Market plans to open for the season on May 29 at the Concrete Community Center.
Market treasurer Betty Seguin said in an email the market is expecting an average of 12 vendors each week.
Students from the Concrete School District’s Farm to School Program will sell fresh produce from the district gardens, and curbside pickup will be available for those unable to wear facial coverings or unable to shop in person.
There are no plans for live music.
Food access programs
All four Skagit County farmers markets participate in the state-funded SNAP Market Match Program, which helps families stretch their food budgets to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Customers who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/EBT benefits can swipe their EBT cards at markets for the amount they want to spend and receive the same amount in SNAP Market Match dollars to spend on fresh produce, herbs and plant starts.
Kindlund said the Anacortes, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley farmers markets will offer unlimited Market Match dollars this year. The Skagit Community Foundation provided funding to make that possible.
“It’s really nice to see families coming through and utilizing (the program),” he said.
Customers redeemed $7,100 in SNAP Market Match dollars at the Mount Vernon Farmers Market in 2020, according to the annual report.
Some markets also accept FVRx Bucks, a fruit and vegetable prescription program administered by United General District 304 that provides money to families to buy fresh produce.