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Longmont Farmers Market adapts, starting to thrive despite COVID restrictions

At this time, we are operating as an essential business and therefore are closer to service of a local grocery store,” Longmont coordinator for Boulder County Farmers Markets Elyse Wood said.

Life has changed the way people in Longmont approach getting food. The Longmont Farmers Market has long been a place to find the freshest agricultural products as well as a place to socialize.

As with all things, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the essential business is being run this year.

The Longmont Farmers Market is held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road. This year it has expanded to a reservation system for drive-thru pick up of reserved goods on Sunday mornings.

The Saturday market is set up as a “one-way flow of (walking) traffic,” said Elyse Wood, operations manager and Longmont coordinator for Boulder County Farmers Markets. She described it as flowing in one direction from south to north, “with one serpentine in the center of the market to ensure all vendors can be accessed in the center,” allowing up to 150 patrons in at a time. “We're regularly going through and doing customer counts to achieve this at the entry line,” said Wood.

Patrons who wish to do so can return to the line to revisit shops they missed during their first pass.

The new format at the market has brought on mixed feelings.

“I personally like the pathways from a safety perspective, but I think it can be confusing for some people. As far as being a vendor goes, I think it’s helpful especially when it’s normally really crowded, it’s easier to be seen,” said Laura Farrar, daughter of Doug and Vicki Farrar, owners of Oxford Farms.

However, a middle-aged Longmont resident who declined to give her name was not as keen on the new COVID procedures. “I think people need to make their own decisions about how close they want to be to each other, instead of having to walk from one end to the other through a maze,” she said.

In past years patrons would wander the market for hours, enjoying getting to know local farmers, meeting with friends and family and enjoying live music.

“Normally, the market is lively, full of music, people hugging and shaking hands while getting their shopping done. At this time, we are operating as an essential business and therefore are closer to service of a local grocery store,” Wood said.

With the label of an essential business the farmers market implemented a list of dos and don’ts for patrons to follow:

  • No food samples

  • No market bucks

  • No live music

  • No seating

  • No artisan shows

  • No nonprofit booths

  • Do wear a mask (required)

  • Do use the restroom before you leave home

  • Do use the hand-washing and sanitizing station

  • Do limit your party to one

  • Do stand on 6-foot distancing marks

  • Do follow one-way flow of traffic

  • Do preorder (here’s a list of vendors who are accepting preorders)

  • Do make a shopping list and plan your route

  • Do keep your market visits short

  • Do use credit cards

  • Do wash and disinfect all your purchases when you return home

  • Don’t come to market if you’re sick

  • Don’t use cash if you can avoid it (If you must, bring small bills)

  • Don’t bring pets to market

  • Don’t touch any produce or goods

  • Don’t consume any food on site

“It has taken a few weeks for both customers and vendors to get used to, but traffic and the energy is increasing incrementally. Ultimately, we pride ourselves on the safety we're providing during these times,” Wood said.

Les Marsh of Rocky Mountain Fresh Farms said his crew has been managing the situation pretty well despite the new challenges. His concern has focused on the crowds returning to support local agriculture.

“It’s really been waiting for the crowd to come back a little bit. So, we’re doing a little bit better each week. We’re bullish on the future. We hope that people will keep coming out,” he said.

The market welcomes patrons to walk up or to make reservations for a time to walk through. Woods said in an email that the reservation system is working well and the market has been able to accommodate all of the walk-up patrons as well.

The weekend of July 11, the market received 386 reservations and 317 walk-up patrons. “Right now, the wait time is the same. We're able to get people in as soon as they arrive. If we were to see an increase in walkups (which we hope to double in the next two weeks) we may see a 5- to 8-minute wait times tops,” Wood said.

Despite the new procedure for shopping at the Longmont Farmers Market, more and more people are turning to supporting local agriculture, she said.

“We've been seeing about 100 people more each week. People are coming back at their comfort level. We also have about 250 customers using our online platform and we know that farm CSA have increased as well,” she said.

To make it easier for more people to shop, the Longmont Farmers Market has food access programs “that make access to fresh and local food easier,” Wood said.

She was referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits program. When patrons use SNAP cards at the market they receive double, up to $40, in fresh fruits and vegetables dollars, according to Wood. Those enrolled in WIC receive $20 in WIC dollars just by showing their program card.

One Longmont family of three said they find it important to support small businesses and to buy local food. Despite the changes in how the market is set up they said, “It isn’t an inconvenience for us, maybe a little more exercise. I think the stores might like them as well, because you have to see every single one, you can’t avoid them.”