On Friday, Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes issued an emergency declaration that reopened the Vancouver Farmers Market.
The decision sparked questions and some criticism from Columbian readers, who wanted to know how that could be safely executed during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“People are going to be lax because they are out in the open air. Please I beg, do not do this!” wrote reader Debra Boyd.
Another reader, Kol Shaver, called the decision a “dangerous path.”
“Believe me, produce vendors and other farmers market vendors are NOT the only small businesses being impacted by the pandemic, and all of us need to do our part,” Shaver wrote. “The pain as a community will be much longer and protracted if we do not buckle down and endure through the shocks both economically and as a society.”
Carol Bua, the city’s spokesperson, provided some clarification on Monday about the reasoning behind the decision. An opening date has not been announced.
“On March 23, when Gov. Inslee issued the stay-at-home order, he included guidance on ‘essential’ businesses that were allowed to stay open under the order; farmers markets were listed as ‘essential,’ ” Bua wrote in an email.
“Since that time, the city has been working with the Vancouver Farmers Market to develop a revised operations plan that would allow them to open a scaled down version with food vendors only and the addition of safety measures, such as monitored social distancing, hand-washing stations, and limited entrances/exits,” the email said. “The goal of these conversations has been to identify a means to provide Vancouver residents access to fresh food products in an open-air environment with proper distancing and sanitation measures in place.”
Later Monday evening during the Vancouver City Council meeting held via phone conference, Vancouver Farmers Market Executive Director Jordan Boldt offered some additional details.
Boldt clarified that the farmers market will not operate normally. The market will be treated as a public utility, not a place to stroll and socialize.
“Everyone envisions the bustling, busy event,” Boldt told the city council, adding that packing the market with people would be deeply inappropriate right now. “It’s a much different shopping experience, for sure.”
Social distancing monitors will keep track of people in the market at the entrances and exits and stagger people if necessary, Boldt said. Signage posted around the market will remind patrons of the 6-foot rule, reinforcing the expectation that people act responsibly. The total number of vendors has been slashed down to a quarter of the usual number, and there are no crafts and goods available for sale — only groceries and prepackaged food.
Those who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at the market will continue to be able to do so, Boldt added.
Additionally, all staff and vendors will be required to wear masks, Boldt said. Anyone directly handling customer goods will have to wear gloves.
The modified Vancouver Farmers Market has been modeled after a handful of other regional markets operating through the COVID-19 outbreak, like the Hood River Farmers Market, which reopened on April 4.
“You actually are coming to a market, you are not coming to an event,” Boldt said. “There’s no music, there’s no food, there’s no place to sit down, there’s no place to congregate.”