Steamer, the Yarmouth Clam Festival mascot, approaches shoppers at the local farmers market in this pre-pandemic photo. The clam festival may be canceled this year, but the Yarmouth Farmers Market is now open for the season. Courtesy / Yarmouth Farmers Market

YARMOUTH — The Yarmouth Farmers Market was due to return June 4, guided by a set of protocols meant to keep shoppers safe in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

With farmers markets declared an essential business and service by Gov. Janet Mills in March, “there was never any question of not running the market,” said manager Amy Sinclair.

Still, there will be a few new protective measures in place. The layout of the market, based outside the 317 Main Community Center on Main St., is being rearranged to facilitate social distancing. Vendors will wear gloves and masks, and hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer will be provided for customers and vendors alike. Customers are encouraged to pre-order from vendors at yarmouthfarmersmarket.org, and all food is being packaged to-go only, with no dining or tastings allowed at the market; no outdoor seating will be available.

The market, which runs Thursdays from 3-6 p.m. through Oct. 15, will be held outside regardless of weather. Shoppers are asked to wear a face covering, stay 6 feet apart and follow signage that directs foot traffic, limit the number of household members who attend, stay home if they feel sick, and pay with a credit card or exact cash if possible.

Despite the health climate and its forced restrictions, Sinclair – director of communications for the 317 Main center – expects strong attendance this year.

“People are concerned about food safety, and we’ve all seen in the news that some food distribution networks have gone down,” she said. “The idea of buying locally, with food that’s been handled by maybe only one or two people before it goes home with you, is very appealing.”

“We hope that in this tight economy, the community will continue to make the farmers market part of their weekly shopping habit,” Sinclair said.

This is the sixth year running the market for Sinclair, who said it’s gotten busier every year since its launch, drawing roughly 200 people, she said. This year will have 17 vendors, up from 16 in 2019 and 15 in 2018.

The market offers a food subsidy program, funded locally by nonprofit organizations and businesses. Vouchers are distributed at Yarmouth’s food pantry and schools, and are available at the market.

The rising number of vouchers redeemed demonstrates a growing need: 32 in 2016, 75 in 2017, 131 in 2018, and 180 in 2019, worth nearly $2,600.

“We’ve done additional fundraising for that this year; because of the economy we expect may more families to be taking advantage of that,” Sinclair 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 been a higher-than-normal turnout this spring, he said, although he couldn’t yet quantify that increase. Warmer weather has helped, as well as such operations being permitted activities, the Freeport resident said.

Despite the new protocols at markets all over Maine that limit socializing, “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.

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