The Brunswick downtown farmers market on opening day in May 2019. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — The Midcoast’s farmers markets are gearing up for the start of another summer season, but their opening days on Friday and Saturday will look much different from years past. 

To help protect vendors and customers from the spread of coronavirus,  Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm is temporarily moving to Brunswick High School. 

“We know how important this market is for getting food to our community and for our farmers’ and producers’ livelihoods,” Nikkilee Cataldo, director of programs said in a press release. “There was never a question if we would open the market this season. Just a question of how we could do it safely.” 

The parking lots at the high school allow the market’s roughly 40 vendors to spread out more than they can at the farm, she said. While Crystal Spring Farm has expansive fields, they are used for active agriculture. 

“Those fields were conserved to be farmed, not to be more parking,” she said. 

The Saturday market can draw up to 3,000 people during the height of the season, said Angela Twitchell, land trust director. Attendance is usually lower in May, she said, and with the pandemic they do not know what to expect this year.

At first, there will be a limit of 100 people at a time in the market.

“If it feels like a ghost town. we’ll up that, and if it’s feeling congested, we’re going to bring it right back down,” Cataldo said. 

Vendors will be spaced at least 6 feet apart and are required to wear masks.

Customers also are urged to wear masks, and while they will not be turned away without one, Cataldo said they will be asked to wear one next time. Shoppers also are asked to follow social and physical distancing guidelines, to carry hand sanitizer and to send just one person per household to shop. 

Pre-ordering for pickup is encouraged, as are using exact change and credit cards. Harvest Bucks and EBT/SNAP benefits will still be available at the market. 

The first half-hour of the market, 8:30-9 a.m. will be reserved for higher-risk customers, including seniors, the immunocompromised, pregnant women, people with disabilities and caregivers. There will be no outhouse available. 

“We really ask the community to have patience,” Cataldo said. “We’re trying to figure this out and make sure everybody’s needs are served.” 

The Brunswick Farmers Market, usually located on the downtown mall, will temporarily relocate to the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on Pleasant Street until the end of May, and possibly through June, depending on the Maine Center for Disease Control recommendations. 

The market, opening Friday and operating on Tuesdays and Fridays, will have abbreviated hours, from 8 a.m. to noon, partly to limit exposure to the virus, and partly because the first few hours are busiest and May weather is not always kind, said Abby Sadauckas, market president. 

Like the Crystal Spring market, Sadauckas said market officials are asking the roughly 15 vendors to wear masks and encouraging call-ahead and prepacked options to limit the number of people and the time spent waiting in lines. Some vendors are taking it a step further by putting in “sneeze guard” barriers, and many are reconfiguring their booths to make it easier for people to shop without touching anything. 

“Farmers have been preparing for this season and are ready to continue feeding folks good local, nutritious food,” she said, and this year the demand may be higher than ever. 

“Many people are cooking at home much more,” she said, adding that many vendors have seen an uptick in sales since the pandemic hit.

During the height of the season, the downtown market sees 300-500 people per day.

Despite increased demand for ingredients and the open-air market allowing for more space and fewer touch surfaces, Saduckas said they are “tempering” their expectations for attendance at the new location, with shorter hours and the public trying to avoid the virus. 

The Bath Farmers Market has been operating all year, and while Saturday marks the first official day of the summer season, market manager Robin Chase said vendors moved outside to better practice social distancing nearly four weeks ago. 

“We have had a jump on the practices that we’re going to be following for the summer market,” she said, something that is especially important, since the vendors nearly triple between seasons, going from 12 to about 33, she said — and the customers nearly double. 

Like Brunswick’s two markets, Chase said she isn’t sure what to expect in terms of visitors for opening day, but said the market is lucky to be heavily supported by locals and not as reliant on tourists. 

All vendors are required to wear masks and will be spaced at least six feet apart from one another, and customers will be kept six feet from the tables. To achieve this, many of the vendors have configured angled displays allowing people to better see the products from a distance. Chase, who sells baked goods, said is repackaging foods and selling cookies, for example, in packs of six instead of singles. 

The market is encouraging people to pre-order whenever possible. 

According to Chase, there will be increased contactless payment methods, and they are encouraging exact change for people paying with cash. However, for those without exact change, there will be “clean change” buckets available. 

Now is a good time for markets, she said, as “people are anxious for local product and… don’t want to go to the grocery store and be around masses of people.” Plus, she added, by working directly with the farmers, items are less likely to be “contaminated.”

“Buy local, buy local, buy local,” she said. 

This story has been updated to clarify the name of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm.

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