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Northeast Ohio Farmers Markets Set New Guidelines Ahead Of Summer Season

Farmers markets around Northeast Ohio are instating new policies to keep customers safe from the spread of the coronavirus as they begin opening for the year.

Geauga Fresh Farmer’s Market will open its outdoor market Saturday, after prematurely closing the indoor winter market in March.

Organizers visited other area markets to see what methods were being used to mitigate the threat of coronavirus, said Geauga board member and vendor Tiffany Mentzer. The market it starting the season with a drive-thru, which will allow people to pick up their produce with limited person-to-person contact.

“We didn’t want to push the opening back,” Mentzer said. “We always open the Saturday before Mother’s Day, we’ve just done that for years and years and years, and we didn’t want to change that.”

Vendors will be spaced far enough apart to allow cars through the market, and customers will receive information on what’s available at the first tent. Some vendors will also offer customers the option of ordering ahead to further limit interactions.

“A lot of our customers seem to be really excited about it,” Mentzer said. “We just hope that it’s successful and we can pivot with all of the changes that are coming weekly and daily.”

The market’s management will re-evaluate at the end of May and decide whether to return to normal operations by June, Mentzer said.

“We’re hoping we can just do it for the month of May, and then have more of our normal set up,” Mentzer said.

Preparations for opening under the shadow of the virus are also underway at the Medina Farmers Market. The market won’t open for another month, but organizers are still considering safety measures.

When it does open on June 6, sales will be restricted to “essential items” such as food and soap, said Main Street Medina Executive Director Matt Wiederhold.

The market currently has 20 vendors signed on, Wiederhold said, and those vendors will be more spaced out than in previous years.

“Because we’re giving everyone a larger space to make sure we can accommodate them safely, we’re kind of limited to the 20 [vendors],” he said.

The Medina market will reserve the first hour of operation for customers at higher risk for COVID-19, Wiederhold said, and the aisles between stalls will be set up for one-way foot traffic. Vendors will have separate spaces in their stalls for products and sales, and will be asked to stay home if they have a fever.

“It’s important for people to be able to get fresh food and have access to that, as long as it’s done in a safe manner,” Wiederhold said.

Organizers aren’t planning on limiting the number of customers right away, Wiederhold said, in part because they need to see what the turnout is for the first weekend of the season to decide what steps are necessary going forward.

“We don’t quite know what to expect when the market does open,” Wiederhold said. “We do feel that people will come to the market to support it, but until we have that first day and see how many, we just don’t know.”

The North Union Farmers Market closed down for a week shortly after the stay-at-home order was announced to decide how to move forward, General Manager Emma Visnic said. The markets in Shaker Square and Crocker Park quicly moved outside a week early to allow for more space, she said.

So far, North Union has seen considerable traffic on market days, she said.

“Obviously a lot of people are cooking at home right now, and they’re choosing the farmers as their place to get produce to cook with,” she said.

Vendors are more spaced out, Visnic said, and the market is limiting the number of customers allowed in at one time based on recommendations from Cleveland’s COVID-19 task force.  The market is also connecting customers with pre-order options and online order forms for vendors, Visnic said.

“We send out an email to our customers letting them know who has pre-pay and connecting them to those websites,” Visnic said. “A lot of them will pre-buy all of their groceries, so that way they can just walk through.”

Customers are also asked not to handle the produce themselves, Visnic said, but to allow vendors to do the bagging.

“Our chicken vendor and a few of the meat guys have said they’ve just been pretty much slammed, especially in their pre-orders,” Visnic said, “because people are having trouble getting the quality meat they’re used to getting at the grocery store.”

Both the Shaker Square and Crocker Park markets have instated special shopping hours for senior and immunocompromised customers, Visnic said.

North Union’s markets, as well as the Geauga and Medina farmers markets, are all providing either hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations. Customers are discouraged from bringing their own reusable bags.

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