By Nathan Ham
The Watauga County Farmers’ Market has transitioned from its winter market to its summer market and will kick things off this Saturday at 8 a.m. with a different look than in years past.
Due to COVID-19 social distancing and essential business regulations, the number of vendors will be fewer than normal with no artists or craft vendors for now.
“We will have places six feet apart marks with tape where we want the customer to stand back from the vendor’s booth. We’re going to have directional sounds to route the crowd,” says market manager Mary Goodnight. “It’s going to look different.”
The farmers’ market is considered an essential business, however, the arts and craft vendors are not. Goodnight says they had around 60 vendors last year but are expecting to have around 40 to start this year.
“Working with the Town of Boone, we are unfortunately opening without our crafts and artists initially until the restrictions are lifted. We are preparing for that to happen through May,” said Goodnight.
Kelsey Crawford is the program coordinator for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. She helped organize the winter farmers’ market and feels like the transition to the summer market should go without a hitch.
“We have been very impressed with vendor adaptability and customer conscientiousness. It seems like everyone really stepped up and figured it out. These are seasoned farmers which means they are good at adapting and figuring things out so I know they will be just fine,” said Crawford.
Crawford does recommend that everyone wear a mask and be prepared to be patient with lines and vendors.
Customers will notice mobile hand washing stations, plenty of hand sanitizer and all vendor booths will be 10 feet apart. All of that is part of the farmers’ market’s COVID-19 response plan.
“We are committed to providing what has always been done – providing a place for people to have access to healthy, fresh produce and provide a place for our local farmers to sell. Keeping that going is vital,” said Goodnight.
One of the sadder changes will be not getting to experience that farmers’ market atmosphere that people have gotten so accustomed to over the years.
“The farmers’ market will not look like the social event that we have had in the past,” said Jim Hamilton, the Watauga County Cooperative Extension Director.
“We are not going to be able to have bands, cooking demos, or samples. We want people to treat it like going to the grocery store or running an errand for now rather than an event,” Goodnight added. “I just took over in December so I had spent months planning bands and all this stuff and now we are doing the complete opposite.”
Looking beyond the social gathering aspect, it is important to remember just how important the market is for farmers.
“I think the objective of the farmers’ market has always been to support the farmers and in these times, it is supporting the farmers and providing a food supply in a time of uncertainty,” Hamilton says. “Some farmers have lost a lot of their restaurant sales over the last couple of months so farmers’ markets and the food hub are a couple of outlets where consumers are helping make up for other losses.”
The Watauga County Farmers’ Market happens at the Horn in the West from 8 a.m. until noon.