Farmers markets prepare for safe shopping environment

 During previous opening days of the Waukesha Farmers Market, patrons were able to roam around freely and pack aisles. This year with the COVID-19 Safer at Home rules in place, aisles will be one-way and more space must be maintained between vendors and patrons.


WAUKESHA — Guidelines are in place for farmers markets across the state to follow, and that will be put to the test on Saturday when the Waukesha Farmers Market opens to the public.

Other locations, such as West Bend, will wait a little longer to be open for business.

Kristin Krokowski, who works with farmers markets throughout Wisconsin, is the horticulture educator out of the UW Madison Waukesha County extension office. She’s been busier than usual this spring ironing out details amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s just been a little bit different, because I work out of Waukesha County, I try to give them little more assistance,” Krokowski said. “But especially right now I’m trying to make sure I’m available to all markets if they need help. Farmers markets in the state are considered part of the essential food resources.”

With the social restrictions outlined in the Safer at Home order, many changes had to be made compared to past years. But as an essential resource, that was the starting point for Krokowski to get to work on an outline for markets.

While it won’t be in a typical mass-gathering fashion, it will still serve as a place where farmers can sell their goods.

“If markets can find a way to stay open for these farmers to provide in an environment where people are not going to feel that they’re going to get sick, the more people we can keep working the better,” Krokowski said. “We want to help them keep people safe and help people feel like they’re safe.”

Along with paid staff, over 300 volunteers across the state offer their services to farmers markets on a weekly basis.

Local markets prepare to open

Norm Bruce, owner of Martha Merrell’s and president of the Waukesha Downtown Business Association, said he is expecting a decent turnout from his vendors this weekend.

“Of course there are always going to be some that have some concerns or a personal kind of thing with a family member that may have some conditions, but we’re doing our modifications with the help of the Waukesha County Health Department,” Bruce said.

Aside from practicing the statewide guidelines, Bruce said children must be supervised at all times, staying within an arm’s length of a parent. There will also be two Porta Potties on site — one being handicap accessible.

“So the chance of having cross-contamination is much lower,” Bruce said. “So we’re looking for basically as regular of a start as we can under the current conditions.

“Our aisles are currently anywhere between 15-18 feet in width. Everyone will be traveling clockwise when they’re going to the market so the flow of traffic is always one way.”

Among other local markets, Brookfield pushed back its opening date two weeks to May 16, while Mukwonago (May 20) and Sussex (June 2) remain on schedule to begin their summer seasons on time. The Oconomowoc Farmers Market is currently postponed indefinitely.

West Bend was slated to begin on May 23, but after the Stay at Home order was extended to May 26 chose to push back operations to May 31.

“On May 31 we are only allowing food vendors,” said Anna Jensen, the events director of Downtown West Bend. “It will make it easier to kind of spread out vendors more and have more space.

“Some of our downtown businesses that set up stalls, they won’t be able to do that, so we’re giving them alternate dates throughout the summer to maybe do another event. There’s a lot of gray area right now.

“At this time we’re just kind of taking it day-by-day, event-by-event, because it’s a fluid situation and things can change quickly.”

And because of that, Krokowski outlined that it’s vital to keep customers and vendors up to date on safety measures and different ways in which to interact. For example, customers may be able to arrange pickup or drop-off sites for prepackaged orders, and there may even be drive-through options.

“It’s really similar to what they’re recommending from a grocery store,” Krokowski said. “One person goes from a family. Make sure you’re not somebody that’s high risk. Come in with a list, get in and get out. I get why that’s not why people go to farmers markets, but they’ll at least be able to get fresh local food.

“Even when the Safer at Home is lifted, I’m not sure how fast we go back to a normal farmers market, so people will at least have some guidelines to follow.”


COVID-19 strategies for farmers markets are as follows:

no sampling

everything must be pre-packaged to consume off site, including prepared foods

no non-food vendors; food plants may be sold (fruit, vegetable, herb)

no music, tabling, activities, promotions or pets

handwashing stations and hand sanitizing for both vendors and customers

social distancing messaging and signage

no customer contact with product until sold

single use bags

increase the spacing between vendors and customers to maintain safe distance

consider placing vendors on one side or having vendors face outward rather than facing each other across an aisle to give them space they need and prevent concentrating customers in the center

consider alternative shopping methods i.e. one-sided drive through market or online ordering with market pickup

suspend fines for no-shows to help prevent sick vendors from coming out of obligation

Vendors were also given the following bullet points to follow:

no sick vendors or employees at the market to prioritize health of customers

have a different person handling money than handling produce

clean, sanitize and disinfect surfaces before the market

use barrier tables (an extra three-foot wide table between the customer and product) or put a table in front of the product; if customer can’t see what’s being sold, use chalk or dry-erase board to list product

wash hands regularly with soap and water; use hand sanitizer only when necessary, as it is not effective on dirty hands

use single gloves where needed; if clean, gloves may be worn up to four hours

avoid touching hands to face

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