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News >  Spokane

‘We’re in the unknown’: Spokane-area farmers markets prepare to open with extra precautions

UPDATED: Sun., April 26, 2020

Tarawyn Waters, right, along with Maya West, left, and Jamey Bryant, harvest spring mix lettuce, Thursday, April 23, 2020, at Urban Eden Farm in Vinegar Flats in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Tarawyn Waters, right, along with Maya West, left, and Jamey Bryant, harvest spring mix lettuce, Thursday, April 23, 2020, at Urban Eden Farm in Vinegar Flats in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Connie Long’s favorite part about selling produce at the Emerson-Garfield Farmers Market in north Spokane is the lively atmosphere created by the live music and children running around. But that may not happen this year.

“We’re in the unknown, which is hard for our production because we go on last year’s numbers,” she said. “I’m afraid we’ll have fewer customers because people won’t come out.”

With the farmers market season just around the corner, organizers in the Spokane area plan to open with new safety guidelines to prepare for a possible expansion of the stay-home order.

There will be half as many vendors because those who don’t offer food services will not be considered essential if restrictions continue, said Rob Allen, board president of the Inland Northwest Farmers Market Association.

“We’re going to have to go back to our roots and protect the local farmer and the local food entrepreneur and make sure that we, at the very least, preserve their direct access to consumers,” he said.

Markets will follow guidelines to ensure people follow social distancing rules and have designated entrances and exits. Booths will be spread out, and the number of customers per booth and at the market will be limited.

The association received a $7,500 donation from Northwest Farm Credit Services, among other smaller grants, that will be used to cover the costs for mobile hand-washing stations at the markets, Allen said.

“We do anticipate that at some point during the summer the social distancing components will be relaxed and it’ll be more like what we’re used to, but there’s no way in hell right now,” Allen said.

Long and her husband own Fresh Cut Farms in Deer Park and have been selling their produce at the Emerson-Garfield Farmers Market for about four years. They’re still unsure if kids activities will be held later on in the summer, Long said.

The farm is small so it’s up to the couple to do all the work. Being at the market is rejuvenating, Long said.

“You look forward to some of your regulars, whether they be adults or kids,” she said.

Local farmer and business owner Jim Schrock grew up farming and began growing his own produce to sell in 2005 with his wife. They’ve been selling their Urban Eden Farm produce in farmers markets for about eight years.

Schrock said their farm stand has been open for three weeks already and people seem to appreciate having access to food that hasn’t been through a half-dozen middlemen before it reaches them.

“I think this is going to work OK for us,” he said.

The Spokane Farmers Market near Fifth Avenue and Browne Street in Spokane hasn’t accepted new vendors this season, said market manager Diane Reuter. Vendors will wear masks and gloves and are encouraged to package their products.

“It won’t be the same this year because there isn’t that sense of being able to hang out at the table and eat a cinnamon roll or things like that,” she said.

Other markes, including the Thursday Market in South Perry, are working with the Spokane Regional Health District to put together a memorandum of best practices to keep safe, said Karina Goldsmith, executive director of the South Perry market.

There are no plans to hold live music events or any large group events, so the atmosphere will look different. But the hope is that people will come and support local farmers, she said.

Spokane County farmers markets are still looking at a $50,000 deficit in what they need to be able to weather possible impacts and continue to function, she said.

“I think this is a really great opportunity to rally behind and together as a community,” Goldsmith said.

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