A milestone season for the Saucon Valley Farmers’ Market in Hellertown will begin on Sunday, May 3. This year, volunteers and supporters of the local, producer-only weekly market will celebrate its 15th season, albeit in a way most never could have anticipated.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the market will open under admittedly challenging circumstances and operate differently than it has in the past, with many safety precautions in place to help keep both vendors and shoppers healthy.
Farmers’ markets are considered essential businesses under Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf’s order that defines which businesses may operate during the pandemic, so even if the order is extended beyond April 30 the market will still open as planned.
Permission to open was required from Hellertown officials, however, and SVFM chairperson Angela Reese received approval from borough council earlier this month, after outlining the plan she and other volunteers have developed for this year’s market.
Reese explained that although the market will be held in the same location as last year–next to the Hellertown Area Library, by Dimmick Park–the setup will be new for everyone.
For starters, the rows of booths that run parallel to Constitution Avenue will be spaced six feet apart, and in between each booth on either side of the central promenade caution tape will restrict access from outside to help ensure social distancing requirements are met.
There will be one entrance and one exit for all pedestrian traffic. Inside the market, there will be lines drawn six feet out from all booths; again, for the purpose of social distancing.
The market’s 20-plus vendors will have the option to put pass-through tables in front of their booths on which to place products that are being purchased. Those tables or the non-porous tablecloths covering them, if in use, will have to be sanitized frequently.
Vendors who are cooking on-site will take customers’ orders, instruct customers to finish their shopping, exit the market and then pick up their order at a designated area at the back of their canopy, maintaining social distancing at all times.
Both vendors and customers will be required to wear masks, which corresponds with a state order mandating mask use in most retail settings that goes into effect on April 19.
Vendors who choose to wear gloves will have to change them in between transactions when handling money and/or credit cards or coming in contact with any items a customer may have touched.
No sampling will be permitted, and the use of contactless payment options such as Venmo and Paypal by vendors and customers alike is being encouraged.
Reese said vendors are also being encouraged to set up pre-ordering options–which some already have done–for their customers and also to prepackage/pre-weigh produce.
“We want everyone to be as hands-off as possible,” Reese said.
She admitted that the rules may sound strict, but stressed that they will be in place with everyone’s best interests at heart. She also noted that an advantage to shopping at the market is that in many cases the food customers purchase will be direct from the grower.
A shorter supply chain means there is less chance of a food item becoming contaminated.
The market will do its best to have a supply of disposable masks on hand for customers who arrive without them, and it will have several hand sanitizer stations for use by all.
Reese said the market is not encouraging customers to wear disposable gloves, since they must be changed very frequently when in use in order to be effective as a barrier to the virus.
Unfortunately, the live music that has been a big part of the market in the past will be on an indefinite hiatus when this year’s farmers’ market opens, as will the monthly Art in the Park gatherings of craftspeople that are an annual tradition.
They will return, however, and Reese said the most important thing right now is that the local farms that are part of the market each year will continue to receive much-needed community support in an environment that is as safe for everyone as possible.
“It’s a time where the pandemic has taken such a toll on small businesses, we would rather support small businesses than take anything from them,” she said.
Customers should also note that there will be a senior/high risk customer shopping hour from 9 to 10 a.m. weekly; only one person per family will be admitted to the market, with some exceptions made if needed; there will be a limit to the total number of shoppers allowed inside the market at one time; and dogs will not be allowed in the market, although they will be missed.
Additional information about food safety and how farmers’ markets are helping to innovate best practices for it during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found in a recent WHYY article, “Why farmers markets may be your safest bet for food shopping during the coronavirus pandemic.”