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N.H. Farmers Markets Are Starting to Open, But With Strict New Practices

Almost all of the state's farmers markets intend to open this year, with new precautions to address COVID-19.

The Concord Farmers Market opens for the season on Saturday. Wayne Hall, the market’s president and owner of Rockey Ole Farm in Concord, says that in addition to opening the market a week later than normal, he’s been working on new policies to keep both patrons and vendors safe.

“We’ve worked very closely with the city of Concord’s health inspector, and the state of New Hampshire, and the agriculture department,” he says. “We formulated a plan and we’re gonna give it a test run Saturday to see if it works.”

That plan includes vendors wearing masks, selling pre-packaged goods, and offering no samples or demonstrations.

Sarah Hansen, of Kearsarge Gore Farm in Warner, says farmers have been taking extra precautions too.

“As farmers, we’re always all hands on deck. Nobody can afford to get sick,” she says. “So, you know, even without COVID-19 we don’t want to get sick, and we obviously don’t want to get other people sick, so when we’re picking we’re taking precautions, wearing masks, cleaning out boxes, putting everything in sterilized containers, that sort of thing.”

Credit Cori Princell / NHPR
Cooper Gorski of Abigail's Bakery at the Concord Farmers Market on May 9, 2020.

Some farmers markets in the state have already been open for weeks, like the Peterborough Farmers Market.

Ellen Dumas of Ten Talents Farm in Greenfield is that market's secretary.

She says they’ve been busy, as the demand for local products has surged since the pandemic hit the state. This past week, the Peterborough Farmers Market had 122 customers.

“Previously we have not seen numbers like that until mid-summer,” says Dumas. “So we’re at not only a high for this early in the season, we’re at our high for the entire season already.”

She says her market looks different than in years past.

“It used to be that the vendor stood behind the table where their products were displayed so that the patron had access to the products,” she says. “But we’re changing that so that the products are behind the vendor. And the patron will ask for what they want, and the vendor will bag it and hand it to the patron. So the products aren’t touched.”

Dumas says she’s had a number of her regular vendors chose not to sell at the market this year. She says one vendor, a baker, chose not to participate out of a fear of bringing the virus home to her family.

“We have another baker who’s been so busy at the business that she works for… that she doesn't have time to bake for the market,” says Dumas. “We had an egg vendor when we first started, and so many people found out about him and bought directly from his farm that he doesn’t have enough eggs to bring to the market anymore.”

Allison Vermette, co-manager of the New Boston Farmers Market says they’ve also lost vendors because of COVID-19.

“It’s best for people not to touch products,” she says. “And so for a lot of our craftspeople that poses a problem, because, you know, people need to pick up and see what they’re offering. So we’ve had a few vendors who’ve backed out because it just wouldn’t make a lot of fiscal sense for them… with those new regulations.”

Vermette says she's worried the new regulations will change the feel of the market, too.

“It’s really a place where a lot of people come and hang out for either the whole time... or at least an hour, sit on the grass, listen to the music, enjoy our community … So it’s going to lose that feeling of community,” she says.

Vermette says she and co-manager Jacki Filiault are hoping to open the New Boston Farmers Market on the first Saturday in June. But they’re not confident it will happen.

“We’re waiting on the town to finalize giving us permission,” she says. “Normally there’s no question about it, it’s fine, but because of the current situation, our emergency management director still needs to go over our new plan.”

Gail McWilliam Jellie, Director of the Division of Agricultural Development at the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food says there’s only been one farmers market in the state that hasn't been able to open because of COVID-19 so far-- the New Hampton Farmers Market.

A full list of farmers markets opening in New Hampshire this summer can be found here.

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