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Farmers markets readying to open — but with new rules

Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 5, 2020, By GRETA JOCHEM and SCOTT MERZBACH, Staff Writers

Farmers markets in Northampton and Amherst could soon open for the season but with revised rules and regulations that aim to keep customers and vendors safe from being infected by and spreading the novel coronavirus.

Last week, the Northampton Health Department released new policies for the operation of markets. Only certain products can be sold: whole, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables; unprocessed honey; pure maple products and fresh eggs. Vendors must wear masks and gloves and provide bags for customers, as reusable bags are not allowed. Markets will have a specific entrance and exit and will only be allowed to have a certain number of customers inside at once.

The Tuesday Market, run by Grow Food Northampton, is waiting for final approval from the city to open, said Niki Lankowski, Tuesday Market and communications manager.

“It’s going to be as soon as possible,” she said of the opening date.

Local farmers have lost income from buyers, including restaurants, that have slowed down their businesses or are totally closed, Lankowski said.

“The farmers are definitely anxious,” she said. “The farmers that are most anxious to come to the Tuesday Market are vendors selling plants. All those plants were seeded before the pandemic … They are ready to be planted in people’s gardens.”

Customers will be able to use benefits from both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP). “That’s a really big deal — there’s only one farm stand in Northampton where you can use HIP,” Lankowski said.

SNAP and HIP benefits will also be able to be used at the Northampton Farmers’ Market, which organizers hope will open on a Saturday in the near future, said Rick Tracy, president of the market and owner of Intervale Farm in Westhampton.

“I was kind of hoping we might be able to sneak in by this coming Saturday,” he said, “but I’m not too optimistic about that happening at this point.”

Organizers of the market also have submitted a plan to the Northampton Health Department and are awaiting approval. “We certainly want to be keeping everybody healthy and safe,” Tracy said. “As soon as we know and have a date to get started, we will be trying to get that word out. When [customers] do come, they need to be prepared to expect things are going to be different.” There will likely be a line to get in because of the occupancy limit, for example.

For many vendors, ‘‘I think the market is one of their main venues, so they are obviously anxious to get started,” Tracy said. Some growers, such as those with family members vulnerable to the virus, have decided to wait to come back to the market due to concerns about COVID-19, Tracy said.

Amherst

At the earliest, the Amherst Farmers Market will return for its 49th season on May 23, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, though that date is contingent on a favorable recommendation from the Town Service & Outreach subcommittee of the Town Council.

On Monday, the council was presented a plan for the “new normal” operations of the market developed with advice from health and safety experts.

While the market will continue to be set up on Spring Street and Boltwood Avenue, there will be sufficient space for proper social distancing, a mandate that vendors and shoppers wear masks or other facial coverings and a prohibition on other aspects used in the past to entice people to drop by, such as live music, food samples and vendors with arts and crafts.

“This is not a social gathering; it’s a way to purchase food in an outdoor space,” Town Manager Paul Bockelman said.

He said the market for 2020 should be viewed as a place to support local and regional growers who may be struggling and to have an outdoor setting for getting fresh food.

Among the changes will be having a waiting line for customers, who will be asked to sanitize their hands; fencing set up to control people’s entrance and exits; having a maximum of 32 vendors set up in 10-foot by 10-foot tents in three rows; and putting up Plexiglas shields as a buffer between seller and buyer.

David Machowski, the market manager, said he won’t know how it works until the first weekend, observing that the farmers market in Greenfield opened May 2 and that, like that market, both vendors and customers will learn on the fly.

Machowski said one positive development possible from the pandemic is launching a virtual market encouraging farmers to put online the product they will bring and have people order and pay online ahead of time for quick pickup. Like at the Northampton markets, SNAP and HIP benefits can be used by customers.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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