Despite a slightly stronger turnout in its first Saturday this year, the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Farmers’ Market has since seen fewer numbers. Several pandemic-fueled factors, such as a new location and restrictions on how many shoppers per household can attend, could play into that. Contributed

BRUNSWICK — Despite a slight uptick in traffic from the year before on opening day, the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Farmers’ Market has seen decreased numbers in the following weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Several factors are at play, according to Jacqui Koopman, the market’s manager: Not all vendors are back, only one member per household is asked to attend, and the market is at a different site this year.

Koopman said 632 vehicles were counted at the May 2 start of this year’s market, up from 625 on opening day the prior year. But last Saturday saw 599 cars, down from 829 last year.

“We didn’t know what to expect” prior to opening, she said. “I know that we are a very popular market and we have a loyal following. And I also know that people are shopping more at farmers markets because it’s outdoors and it’s safer, and access to local food is easier that way.”

Still, “things are in flux,” which may have an impact on numbers, Koopman said.

There are 130 summer farmers markets across the state, of which about 30 continue through the winter, according to Jimmy DeBiasi, director of programs with the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. There’s generally been a higher-than-normal turnout this spring, he said, although he couldn’t yet quantify that increase. Recent warmer weather has helped, as well as such operations being permitted in Maine, the Freeport resident said.

Despite the new protocols at markets all over Maine that limit socializing at such events, “the human connection, you still get that,” DeBiasi said. “I’m hearing from the farmers that they’ve never felt more connected to their customers.”

“Supporting your local farm is just such a good investment in your community security,” he said.

The land trust’s market, established in 1999 and one of six held in Brunswick throughout the year, is located outside Brunswick High School at 116 Maquoit Road. The market area and parking lot open at 8:30 a.m., with only higher-risk shoppers – seniors, people with autoimmune issues or disabilities, pregnant women, and caregivers – welcome until 9 a.m. The general public is admitted from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The gathering, which Down East Magazine deemed the best in Maine last year, runs through Oct. 31.

The high school is a new, temporary location this year – a change from the land trust’s traditional Crystal Spring Farm site – in order to provide greater space for social distancing and traffic flow, according to Jamie Pacheco, the land trust’s program manager. Customers are asked to keep at least 6 feet apart, wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer, have only one person per family at the market, keep visits brief, and stay home if they feel sick or have been around someone who is ill. There are no bathroom facilities available to shoppers.

People have generally been “fantastic about masks, fantastic about distancing, not fantastic about one person per household,” Koopman said. “It’s understandable because it’s a social event; it has been always a community event, it’s a gathering space, it’s quite festive. But we’re in different times.”

The number of cars allowed into the market at a time is capped at 120 for distancing reasons, so shoppers may have to wait before being admitted; the high school’s long driveway facilitates vehicle queues, Koopman said. Attendance tends to be less busy during mid to late morning.

The market has a roster of 39 vendors, 36 of which are food operations, considered an essential service by the state. Thirty-three are involved in this year’s market, Koopman said, but she expects more could appear in the coming months.

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