With spring in air, many are looking forward to purchasing farm-fresh produce at their local farmers markets.

Some are planning to open soon, while others are still unsure about what to do with the upcoming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been difficult to know how to plan for anything this year,” said Ben Ratliffe, the new farmers’ market manager in the Village of DeForest. “We are grateful for the support and guidance we’ve gotten from working with other market managers around Dane County and public health officials. We are now confident that we can keep our market open and keep vendors and visitors safe.”

In Waunakee, the Chamber of Commerce is looking into opening the farmers market in June and will reach out to vendors beginning this week to discuss their interest in participating.

The Waunakee Farmers Market usually runs May through October at the Waun-A-Bowl and Rocky Rococo parking lot on South Century Avenue.

In DeForest, even though it’s not quite business as usual, the farmers’ market is expected to begin on schedule, Tuesday, June 2. Opening day for the Poynette Area Farmers’ Market is May 9. A decision on the Lodi Valley Farmers’ Market is pending.

Under the Safer at Home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, farmers markets, like grocery stores, are permitted to operate with some guidelines.

According to the Madison and Dane County health department, not permitted is outdoor or inside seating, food consumption on premise or food sampling. Customer self-dispensing of unpackaged food is discouraged.

Vendors will be required to ensure customers are maintaining proper social distancing six feet apart. Personal hygiene recommendations, including frequent handwashing and cleaning surfaces are also in place.

Vendors will be encouraged to prepackage items in advance and regularly sanitize containers used to store produce.

While cash sales may be of concern, the health department notes that according to the CDC, cash is not a primary mode of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Still, customers and workers are advised to wash hands often throughout the day, including after handling money, and always before and after they eat and touch their eyes. Vendors will be asked to keep hand sanitizer or a handwashing stations available for employees if they will handle money. If a card reader or tablet is used to take credit cards, they are advised to sanitize that equipment frequently.

Reusable bags are also discouraged.

Patricia Niglis did her due diligence before deciding on opening the Poynette Area Farmers’ Market this year.

Saying she was “debating whether to open or not,” Niglis explained that one of the vendors helped her make up her mind. That vendor was going ahead with selling little plant seedlings, so Niglis hoped the Poynette Area Farmers’ Market could help.

However, Niglis was afraid that crafters couldn’t be at the market, that only edible food was allowed under the provisions making it possible for farmers’ markets to do business. She checked with the Village of Poynette and its police department and found out crafters could be included as long as they were part of a group.

Farmers’ markets for both Poynette and DeForest are starting on schedule. Poynette’s version, to be held every Saturday from May 9 through Sept. 26 in the Pauquette Park parking lot from 8-11 a.m. if all goes well with the coronavirus, always begins on Mother’s Day weekend.

It features in-season vegetables, breads and bakery items, arts and crafts, canned goods, honey, plants and handmade soaps and body care materials.

DeForest’s farmers’ markets are open Tuesdays from 3-6 p.m. Ratliffe said eight to 12 vendors are expected to participate each week, with booths set up along DeForest Street and a new pre-order pickup option.

Ratliffe outlined the precautions that will be taken.

“There’s going to be plenty of space for social distancing at the market this year,” said Ratliffe. “Vendors will be setting booths up with 12 feet of space between them and shoppers will be guided through turnstiles to help maintain distances. The market section of DeForest Street will be one-way foot traffic only this year. We are putting together a map that we will share out to vendors and shoppers.”

Ratliffe also shared details about the new pre-order pickup program in DeForest.

“In the next few weeks, market visitors will be able to find contact and product information for all participating vendors,” said Ratliffe. “Customers can place orders directly with vendors and pick up their orders at the market. A automobile route will be drawn up to avoid traffic jams.”

Not everything will be the same with DeForest’s version. No special events will be held during the market. That includes live music and kids crafts, among other things.

“The goal of the market and again why it is allowed is to provide the community with essential nutritious foods,” said Ratliffe. “We want shoppers to come in get their foods in a safe manner and then head out. If the restrictions change then we will adapt as well.”

New rules will also be instituted at the Poynette Area Farmers’ Market. Everybody will be asked to wear masks and practice social distancing. There will be no samples. No touching of vendors’ wares will be allowed.

“There can’t be any of that,” said Niglis, who also noted that her table will be moved closer to the sidewalk, so she can keep an eye on visitors and see if they need to step back. “We’re going to be taking as much precautions as we can.”

There will be some semblance of normalcy at the Poynette market. All mothers will get a carnation on opening day, and Niglis still plans to give out $10 in coupons during three drawings at each of the market days. About nine vendors usually participate, although the numbers sometimes swell to 15. Half sell vegetables, said Niglis, and the other half sell crafts.

Niglis has worked with the Poynette market for the past five years. She’s been running it the last couple of years. Her vendors are ready.

“I talked to some of the vendors and they are very, very excited,” said Niglis. “Some said, ‘Gosh, my spirits have been lifted.’ A couple said it was the best news they’d heard all year.”

Ratliffe indicated some of the DeForest vendors had reservations.

“Understandably, some vendors have been hesitant because of health concerns and uncertainty that customers would attend markets this year,” said Ratliffe. “As we’ve shared our safety plan and pre-order program with them, more vendors have been getting in touch and are willing to try new things.”

DeForest’s decision to open came down to one thing: public safety.

“Once Parks & Recreation staff developed a social distancing plan for the market and saw that we could ensure visitors safety, we committed to making sure DeForest continued to have access to healthy diets,” said Ratliffe. “Right now, this might be more important than ever.”

The Village of Dane’s farmers’ market just recently announced that it will open May 12. It runs from May to October on Tuesdays, from 2:30-5:30 p.m.

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