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Downtown Farmers’ Market returns Saturday with different look but with increased optimism


The Downtown Farmers’ Market is set to return Saturday with a new look. File photo

For the first time in two years, the Downtown Farmers’ Market will ring the opening bell live on Court Avenue Saturday morning to kick off a new season of live, in-person markets.

It’s an exciting day for the farmers market staff, who last year had to find creative ways to keep vendors and customers connected after the in-person market was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

They held Facebook Live events, online markets and drive-thru markets, but with the return of the in-person market Saturday, the staff is eager to begin its return to normal this year.

“Our team is jumping out of its skin with excitement,” said Kelly Foss, the director of the Downtown Farmers’ Market. “Coming into May last year was a huge question mark.”

The concern that revolved around the early days of the pandemic has given way to a more optimistic mood this year, Foss said.

“I think the weather changing is helping people feel a little bit more like they can go outside and get some fresh air, but also the freshness that we’re going to be OK and we’re going to be able to move forward,” she said.

While the live farmers market is returning, there are some modifications that will make it look a little different than in past years.

There will be about 110 vendors, about half of what the market normally has, and it will be focused on vendors who are food producers, Foss said.

Absent will be the prepared food, ready-to-eat food vendors, and vendors selling arts and crafts.

“We’ll be focusing on the local food producers and we’ll have many other food makers and bakers, so in addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables, you’ll see vendors selling meats and cheese, you’ll be able to shop for jams and pies, things like that,” she said.

Court Avenue will also be divided by traffic cones to help direct the flow of pedestrian traffic, keeping consumers moving the same direction. That won’t preclude customers from cutting over to another vendor, and the farmers market staff is working to keep the flow as open and safe as possible.

“You’ll be able to go east and west on Court Avenue, and just staying to the right, so if you want to cross over to your vendor on the other side, you can easily do that,” Foss said. “We’re trying to make sure there’s enough space that people can spread out and move about the space as they wish.”

“We’re hoping to create an inviting atmosphere yet safe at the same time,” Foss said.

Vendors will be spaced at least 10 feet apart. Vendors and market staff will be required to wear masks, and Foss said customers will also be encouraged to wear masks when attending the market, which will run from 7 a.m. to noon.

A typical opening day can attract 25,000 people or more, and Foss said it is difficult to gauge what turnout will be when the market returns Saturday.

“We’ll have room for those people over the five hours the market is open,” she said. “I hope people will feel that we’ve put in place modifications that allow for more movement and space through the market when shopping. I hope people will come down and support our local producers and see the market as it is now and be able to help us with excitement as we’re able to evolve and recalibrate as the weeks go on.”

She anticipates more changes as the season continues, with more vendors being added to the weekly lineup.

“There’s so many factors we have to consider,” Foss said. “Our goal is to phase in, keeping with CDC guidelines. “We have 110 vendors this week and then we’re going to recalibrate and invite more vendors, so each week will look a little different but always trying to keep a steady balance. We’re not quite there yet to have [all vendors] back. That’s hard on all of us, but knowing that we can see a glimpse of that in our future is encouraging. We’re just going to keep following the information that’s given to us. The market is an outdoor venue and we feel we can do this in a really safe way.”

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