There’s plenty of space and fresh air, making the farmer’s market perfect for the era of COVID-19.
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Because of Massachusetts’ phased plan of reopening, as well as people’s discomfort with being in small, closed-in areas, it seems like every business in Massachusetts is trying to move outside. Restaurant parking lots have become patios, picnic tables have replaced dinner tables, and even if your restaurant has a view of nothing but the highway, you are setting up chairs outside.
This should be a good time to be the Walpole Farmer’s Market, which has plenty of space just across from the library. With town permission, the market opened this Saturday with social distancing guidelines and plenty of grass between vendors. But, with so many people out of work and so many businesses facing bankruptcy, were there any vendors that didn’t want or couldn’t participate because of the virus?
“Nobody said 'I’m not coming because of the Coronavirus,'” Carol Johnson, the manager of the market explained, “and that’s because we have very strict guidelines. As you saw, there’s an entrance which we’ve never had before, and we have two exits. People are observing that, for the most part, and then we have the social distancing.”
When people talk about the “new normal” of a post-COVID world, one of the things they might not think about is poking, prodding and squeezing produce before they purchase it. As Johnson explained, that’s not allowed at the farmer’s market.
“If you go to a farm table, you can’t pick the tomatoes you want - you have to indicate which ones you want to the young women behind there. So, they’re very simple rules, but people are very respectful. So far, only one person has given me a hard time. He tried to sneak in that barrier there and I said ‘No, you have to go to the entrance.’ He said ‘really?’ and I said ‘Really.'”
As for the market itself, the vendors said it was too early to notice if anything had changed. One woman was selling organic soaps, but said she hadn’t seen a huge boom the way Lysol and Clorox have, while another woman noted that more people appeared willing to buy their own live plants than ever before - but she didn’t know if that was due to more time spent at home for gardening, fear of shopping in public, or something else. Most vendors, however, just noted how happy they were for Walpole to allow them to hold a farmer’s market, because many towns were banning them altogether.
While COVID has impacted almost every facet of American life, it didn’t impact the Walpole Farmer’s Market start date. Because of Johnson’s work and advocacy, the market was held right on time.
“This is the start date. This is town-owned land; I’m not sponsored by the town, so this is the market that I run. I’m a volunteer, but I can’t open this market without the authority of the Board of Selectmen. They met with Melissa Ranieri, the director of health, to say 'we’ll give Carol permission to open the market - but she needs to follow the guidelines established by Governor Baker,' which of course I would, too, but with Melissa’s authority behind me, which is very good. She’s a good person. It’s good to be supported by the town.”
It isn’t especially surprising that COVID couldn’t bring down the farmer’s market. Johnson said that she very, very rarely cancels it.
“We’re open through October 24th, which is twenty Saturdays. We do every Saturday. We do the same vendors - one or two may not come on a particular Saturday, but for the most part, it’s the same vendors. I only cancel if lightning and thunder are threatened. I’ve cancelled once, I think, in the four years as manager.”