Farmers markets opening, hoping for a busy season through safe shopping experiences

Karen Ryan of Concord purchases bread from Cooper Gorski of Abigail’s Bakery in Weare at the Concord Farmers Market last Saturday.

When the Lebanon Farmers Market opened for the season at Colburn Park on Thursday, it looked very different than in years past, when families gathered with friends and neighbors to buy local products.

Typically, about 2,000 people pass through the market’s eight entrances, purchasing products from 50 vendors during a three-hour window on nights it is open.

The market is most packed when live performances and social events are taking place in the city of 13,600.

This year, the farmers market — which is run by the city’s recreation department — will have a footprint twice as big as before, with just one entrance. Everyone will be asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

“We have a minimum of 10 or 15 feet between every single tent, so that people have ample space for social distancing. That larger layout has allowed us to create a giant circuit, like a track, instead of the more compressed walking paths that we had before,” said Jessica Giordani, the market’s coordinator.

Giordani is hoping for a good season for vendors despite COVID-19 concerns.

“I think so far people have been really enthusiastic about it,” Giordani said. “They’re happy to have access to local food in one place, and they’re excited to see some of the prepared-food vendors and to just get outside a little bit.”

Although some farmers markets around the state have postponed their openings because of COVID-19 concerns, only New Hampton’s doesn’t plan to open this season, according to Gail McWilliam Jellie, director for New Hampshire’s Division of Agricultural Development in the Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food.

New Hampton’s market had lower foot traffic last year than organizers had hoped for.

The state is offering guidance to market organizers, including protocols for wearing face masks, using gloves and having hand sanitizer available, McWilliam Jellie said.

McWilliam Jellie said farmers have the safety of customers and employees in mind.

“Everybody’s got the same worries, and everyone is trying to figure it out. There’s a lot of sharing going on as far as ideas and practices, which is great,” McWilliam Jellie said.

Farmers have been working closely over the past eight weeks with the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension Food & Agriculture Program.

Olivia Saunders, a field specialist in fruit and vegetable production at the Carroll County Extension office, has been coordinating calls with farmers to address their concerns during the pandemic.

Saunders said farmers have been flexible in addressing their quickly changing business environment, adding curbside pickup and online stores to cover for losses in sales to local restaurants.

Collaboration is key for many New England farmers, Saunders said.

“In certain communities, or regions, we are seeing a lot of farms collaborating together to better meet customer needs. They might do a cooperative store online or a delivery business where they are meeting to aggregate products and then they’re doing drop-offs of those aggregated products,” Saunders said.

That might include a collaboration between a dairy farm, a meat operation and a vegetable farm so customers get a variety of different things in each delivery, Saunders said.

Mary Saucier Choate, a field safety specialist at the Grafton County Extension office, will join a panel discussion on best management practices for farmers markets on Monday at 7 p.m., part of a collaborative effort between the state Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food and UNH Cooperative Extension.said the best news for farmers markets this summer is that being outside is much less risky than being in an enclosed area — even a spacious enclosed area — during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In an enclosed area, you are more likely to become infected if there is someone infected there,” Choate said. “Outside, there’s lots more air flow and also, if you are wearing a mask, you’re outside, you’re keeping your distance, there’s a much lesser risk of infection than if you are in an enclosed space, even with social distancing.”

The agriculture department and UNH Cooperative Extension will hold a webinar Monday at 7 p.m. to discuss best practices for farmers markets. For more information on how to register for the free webinar, visit https://bit.ly/2Au2iDA.

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