MONTPELIER – Vibrant green plants and vegetables laid out in bunches. Amber bottles of fresh maple syrup. Brown wicker baskets of baked goods. Coolers full of cheese and dairy products.
The non-verbal signs pointed to, mercifully, business as usual under a brilliant blue sky on Saturday.
The signs with words supplied the fine print: Shop quickly, stay 6 feet apart and mind the one-way traffic pattern, please!
The day after Vermont permitted farmers markets to resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Capital City Farmers Market reopened for the summer season right on schedule with safety precautions in place and disinfectant wipes stationed next to each payment box.
And it had a healthy, obedient line of masked and gloved shoppers — 6-plus feet apart, spread out over close to 75 yards — waiting for its return.
“It was a two-month battle to be here. I’m really excited,” market manager Keri Ryan said. “To have a line like this … I’m shocked and I’m thrilled.”
More than 20 vendors had booths Saturday with more expected to join in coming weeks, she said. That is about double the number that were operating under preorder-only restrictions a month ago, before markets were forced to close completely.
“It was really hard for a lot of the farmers to pivot so quickly,” Ryan said. “Some of them don’t even have email. The ones that could were taking online orders pretty quickly. Now we’re trying to help those that don’t have websites, don’t have (apps) to take credit cards.”
‘Just keep growing’
Saturday’s event marked the return of something closer to normal.
“I’d like some parsnips! And do you have any celery?” a masked market-goer asked Robert Linck at the Fusda Farms stand.
Linck collected and bagged the goods, added up the total and set the produce on the table for the customer to pick up.
“If you have exact change you can pay with cash,” he said. “If you don’t, you can pay next week, or the week after that, or never. I’ll be here either way.”
Between shoppers, Linck explained that the effects of the pandemic included losing most of his accounts with restaurants — the bulk of his business.
The other third or so of his annual income came from appearances at the farmers markets here and in Waterbury, he said. But that dried up in April, too.
“I’m in a sort of privileged position because it’s not quite so scary for me — I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I have no payroll, it’s just me,” Linck said.
“It’s different but we’re farmers, it’s what we do — things fall apart and we put them back together,” he said. “Just keep growing stuff. People want food somewhere.”
The revised orders from Gov. Phil Scott stipulated:
- No on-site consumption of drink or food, including samples.
- No craft or jewelry vendors.
- No on-site music, entertainment or children’s activities.
- Minimal handling of produce.
- Face masks and gloves for all vendors.
- Vendors required to offer online or phone orders for pre-pay and pickup.
- No pets.
- 12-foot distance between vendor booths.
- Special pick-up times for customers with a higher risk of infection.
- Only one family member per household to shop, when possible.
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