When the Market @ The Village opens for its 15th season, it will be business as close to normal as can be expected, during a pandemic.
Sharon Brinsmead-Taylor says the May 29 opening of the farmers’ market at the corner of Niven Road and Niagara Stone Road will be very similar to last year, with guidelines from Niagara Public Health, but also with some lessons learned from last season.
She explains for customers, it will look more like picking up from where they left off when the market closed for the season, although restricted at this point to 17 growers who have signed up to sell food or plants, which the province has deemed essential.
That’s up from the 10 vendors who opened the season last year. “Word got out about how successful the market was,” says Brinsmead-Taylor, “so we have some new people this season. And they will all be local, from the Niagara region, with most from Niagara-on-the-Lake. Shoppers will be buying local produce, and supporting local farmers.”
One big difference is the ability to have Ken and Rose Bartel back from the beginning of the season with their beautiful flowers — this time last year, their booth, one of the anchors at the market from its earliest days, was limited to vegetable plants.
Artisan vendors can’t be included yet — they’re expected to return when current restrictions are lifted.
Having been through this before, Brinsmead-Taylor is ready for a good year at the market. Many of the vendors told her last season was their best ever, with the market offering a welcome, safe and easy outdoor shopping experience for those anxious for something to do that seems normal.
Rather than limiting the capacity of one shopper per vendor, the region is allowing flexibility, giving staff the responsibility of ensuring people are able to physical distance. That should eliminate the lineup of people waiting to get into the market, as experienced by some last year, although it’s likely there will always be a lineup at 8 a.m. for the early birds waiting for the market to open.
“We’ll be watching the flow, making sure it doesn’t get congested,” says Brinsmead-Taylor. “It’s a big, open space. We just have to watch that people can keep a good distance.”
Another difference is that masks must be worn, by market staff, vendors and customers, whereas at this time last year, they were optional outdoors, although almost everyone was wearing one. “I started working with public health months ago. This year, they’re asking us to ensure everyone is masked. But it won’t be an issue. People have become so accustomed to wearing a mask that most of us don’t think twice, it seems so normal.”
Each vendor will be on the pavement, in their own tents, placed at least six feet apart.
Most of the farmers’ markets around the region have the same coordinator as last year, and they’re all accustomed to working together with public health staff they have gotten to know, so the process has been a little smoother.
“It’s been a real collaboration, figuring out how best to follow protocols. The onus has been put on the market coordinators to ensure things are done properly, and we know public health will be around to do inspections, although they’re overwhelmed with everything else they have on their plate.”
Everyone has the same goal, she says — to keep people safe and healthy, and market coordinators “have done a really good job of that. It’s important to me to make our vendors, staff and customers feel safe.”
The market will be open the same hours as other years, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays until Thanksgiving.
As for the Wednesday SupperMarket, “we’re not even contemplating that.”
There is so much work to do for it to open, without knowing when that could be, the decision was made not to plan for it.
“We’re dealing with so much unknown at this time,” she says.
There is always a “slight” possibility that it could open for a few weeks at the end of the season, says Brinsmead-Taylor, for the locals who love it. She’s warning us not to count on it, but adds, “if it works out it would be a bonus.”