By Sierra McGivney
Vendors stand in rows six feet apart as shoppers wearing masks walk in one-way aisles, buying produce while enjoying the fresh mountain air. While farmers markets are opening for the summer season across the region, they look and feel different this year.
According to Dick Crawford, an organizer of the Keene Valley farmers market, the biggest changes due to COVID-19 are social distancing, the use of hand sanitizer and face masks. For the first couple of weeks only food vendors were allowed but the product selection has since expanded to include crafts.
At the Keene Valley market, which is open Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Marcy Field, there are health and safety requirements for both vendors and customers such as:
- Maintaining 6 foot distance for both staff and customers,
- shoppers are not allowed to touch produce or merchandise prior to purchase
- and no cooking demonstration or food sampling is allowed.
Jake Vennie-Vollrath is an organizer at the Saranac Lake farmers market, where he is also a vendor for two businesses: Adirondack Noodle Company and Moonstone Farm and Forest. He says that at the Saranac Lake farmers market, volunteers and organizers are trying to keep folks moving through because large gatherings are still not allowed in the state.
“We have to function more like a store than an actual farmers market, which is more of a community,” said Vennie-Vollrath.
Vennie-Vollrath said that the public is adjusting well to the changes. They get in and get out, social distance, and minimize talking to the vendors.
Limiting the numbers of vendors, shoppers
At the Saranac Lake market, only essential businesses are allowed. This includes food and beverage vendors like farms and beer businesses.
Vennie-Vollrath said he was unsure of when art and artisan vendors will be allowed at the farmers market for a number of reasons. The Saranac Lake Market is held from 9 a.m. to 2p.m. Saturdays at Riverside Park, a venue that is smaller than other farmers markets, making it more difficult to properly space out vendors.
“July through labor day is kind of bonkers at the market. That’s why we are being a little hesitant about welcoming more and more vendors,” Vennie-Vollrath said.
Most of the vendors in Saranac Lake have sold out the past couple of weeks. Vennie-Vollrath said he can’t tell if it’s because there is less product or more people. Foot traffic has been high due to more people in the area wanting to shop locally. According to Vennie-Vollrath, more than 50 percent of the people who come to the market are local. Over the next couple of months tourism will increase, bringing in new people, which is why the farmers market is trying to play it safe.
“The last thing that we want is for our farmers market to shut down, which would mean tens of thousands of dollars of business every weekend that these vendors would be out and we also don’t want any sort of outbreak being tied back to the market,”said Vennie-Vollrath.
Businesses hold steady
For Todd McAuley, the owner of Adirondack Kettle Korn and vendor at Keene Valley’s market, business is remaining steady. He says that the farmers market did have low attendance but that could be due to the market opening a week early this year and the colder weather. Usually attendance picks up after the first market because school gets out after that.
One of the things McAuley is worried about is the low number of vendors at the market.
“When you drive by and see 100 tents, it’s kinda like ‘curiosity kills the cat,’ you want to see what is going on. Right now there are only 20 tents,” Said McAuley.
Despite that, McAuley says that the people who do come to the market seem so appreciative to be outside and have something to do.
“I’m very optimistic for the Keene Valley farmers market,” said McAuley.