Craft vendors now allowed in Phase II
The Methow Valley Farmers Market looks a little different these days thanks to coronavirus containment measures. But turnout has not been much different than in years past, as the allure of shopping for local produce and crafts has not diminished.
The Saturday gathering at the Methow Valley Community Center parking lot in Twisp, which has now been open for eight weeks, recently gave the green light for craft vendors to set up booths after Okanogan County entered Phase II of the state’s Safe Start plan — which allows for fewer restrictions on retail sales.
“One of the hardest things was the inability for crafters/artists to bring their products to market while we were in Phase I. Farm and food products were considered essential and allowable for sale in Phase I; it wasn’t until Phase II that we could welcome all vendors to the market,” said Kelleigh McMillan, who runs Red Shed Produce and Kelleigh’s Jewelry at the market, and is also on the Farmers Market board.
The first five weeks of the market’s limited operations resulted in a loss of expected income for some of the craft vendors, and left the market feeling small compared to previous years.
“[Now] the market is lively, and everyone seems so happy to be out, buying locally produced items,” said McMillan. “We have managed, after many hours of email conversations, deliberation, and planning, to create a very safe and positive market environment in these challenging times.”
“Many loyal customers supported the market in Phase I,” said McMillan, who noted that an online, pre-order system, made available with the support of the Methow Conservancy’s Agriculture Program, helped to boost early-season sales for market vendors.
Willowbrook Farms has been using the online pre-order sales website, which co-owner Cameron Green says has accounted for 90 percent of sales at the farmers market.
“It’s been good for our business, and our customers, especially those who want to just get in and get out,” said Green, who added that, while pre-order customers simply swing by and pick-up their pre-collected orders, Willowbrook is also selling whatever extra produce they have that week at the market
“It’s an unexpected addition that has worked out really well for us,” said Green, who plans to keep the online pre-ordering system going.
Operating a booth at the farmers market requires a little more planning, as does managing the market itself.
“Vendors must wear masks and space their booths 10 feet apart,” said McMillan. “[And,] we encourage physical distancing by how we set up our tables in our booths and ask that only households approach the vendor at a time. Our market master Willie Getz helps with roping off areas in order to encourage everyone to enter from the highway and is generally helpful in managing the order of the market.”
For patrons, patience helps, noted McMillan. “[Shoppers] are required to wear masks and to wait further back from the vendors than they would otherwise. [Also,] they are not able to select their own produce in bulk but have to buy items pre-bagged,” she said.
“Remember to distance physically from other customers especially on holiday weekends and please bring your mask,” said McMillan. “Please allow the vendor to hand you the products you’re buying and try to avoid touching anything you are not purchasing. We’ve set up a greeting station at the entrance to the Community Center parking lot. Volunteers staff the table and provide free locally made masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to every customer.”
Managing the market’s efforts to provide safe shopping during the pandemic is a community effort, along with the volunteer staff at the greeting stations. The market has given away hundreds of free masks, sewn and provided by eqpd in Twisp and the community group, Methow Valley PPE.
After a request by one of the market’s vendors, Donna Keyser of D*Signs in Twisp began creating “mask reminder” signs for the market. Keyser showed up by bicycle last Saturday with the signs, and installed them around the market.
Green, who co-owns Willowbrook Farms with her husband Eric Wittenbach, has been running the farm stand at the market, and feels that while the crowds have grown market patrons are overall doing a good job of following safety protocols.
“Last weekend felt much, much safer,” said Green, who said. “It must be because the governor’s mandate that everybody wears a mask in public. I think that helped a lot. For me as a vendor I felt much safer feeling that the majority of people were wearing masks.”
“[At first] it really felt like it was a majority of locals or folks that are second-homers,” said Green. “As the summer goes on, and over the last couple of weeks since Phase II, I would say there has been more traffic. Both locals and tourist; for me personally it’s great to see.”
However, Green said there has also been an increase in visitors not wearing masks. “With more people it’s a little more challenging to regulate … It puts a little more pressure on everybody’s ability to be safe,” said Green. “And when you add people coming in and not understanding our limited medical services; I think there are some gaps in people’s understanding of how it can affect a small rural community like ours.”
Vendors imagine that this coming Saturday’s market will get an even bigger attendance bump as it coincides with July 4.
“I think the biggest thing for us … farmer and crafters, is that this is how we make a big chunk of our income. We want tourists, we just want everybody to be as safe as possible,” said Green.