WESTFIELD-After months of preparation to protect customers, volunteers and vendors at the Westfield Farmers’ Market, an opening day has been set for July 30, according to Debbie Randzio, market manager.
“Customers will be lined up while distancing at the entrance near the parking lot of the Episcopal Church of the Atonement, vendors will be at their places on the lawn, and volunteers will be scattered all over the property,” said Randzio, noting a detailed map of pedestrian flow has been presented to the Westfield Health Department.
“We really don’t want people to gather too closely,” said Randzio on the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Randzio noted that the first volunteer training session was conducted July 9 and another session is planned July 16. Vendor training is taking place via the Zoom platform.
For customers attending the market, there are several guidelines that must be followed, including wearing a face mask or face covering at all times, using hand sanitizer when entering the market, being prepared to wait even if one has pre-ordered or scheduled a visit with a vendor, and maintaining six feet of distance from shoppers and vendors.
“Please follow instructions posted on signs and comply with requests from vendors and market staff,” said Randzio, adding, “all are meant to keep you healthy.”
Randzio noted that a one-time use disposable mask will be given to customers who arrive at the market without a mask with instructions they throw the mask in the trash as they leave the market, and bring their own face covering the next time they visit. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 will wear masks at the discretion of their parents or caretakers, and children under 2 are exempt from wearing a mask.
“We have also received a $400 grant from Farm Credit East to offset the cost of disposable face masks, hand sanitizer, latex gloves, and supplies necessary to enforce the new protocols, so that has been a big help,” said Randzio.
Shoppers will also be asked to refrain from touching products and instead, vendors will handle all items for customers.
“Point or tell the vendors what you want to purchase,” said Randzio.
Randzio noted the market management team has worked closely with the Health Department, the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Farmers’ Markets Association to adhere to the guidelines given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Charlie Baker’s office, and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.
The Westfield Farmers’ Market vendors have agreed to follow a set of protocols to reduce risk of COVID contamination, including frequent wiping down of their displays, minimal touch of monetary transactions and sales procedures, and wearing masks and social distancing, according to Randzio.
“Vendors may accept cash, although they’re being encouraged to price their items to eliminate the need for coins, and to accept credit or debit cards whenever possible,” said Randzio. “SNAP cards will be accepted at the Market Table and authorized vendors.”
While Randzio said it is still too early to know how many vendors will return this season, she is hopeful that the vendors present will accept orders from customers in advance of the market.
“This may be done by contacting the vendor and placing your order so the vendor can have it ready for pick up when you arrive,” said Randzio, adding not all vendors may offer this option.
While curbside pick up has been a popular alternative for many businesses during the pandemic, Randzio said because the Westfield Farmers’ Market is operated entirely by volunteers, she does not have enough volunteers for a carry out service at this time.
“In many cases, your favorite vendors are coming back,” said Randzio. “It may just take them a little while to get up to speed. Check at the market manager’s tent to find out if your old favorite is coming back this year. If not, think about checking out other vendors to find a new favorite, or contact other vendors you may have seen elsewhere and invite them to attend the market.”
When the market officially opens, there will be only one entrance to the market and only one exit. The entrance and exit will be on opposite sides of the church building. All other access to the vendors will be blocked with traffic cones and “Do Not Enter” tape.
“Volunteers will be stationed strategically to direct customers to the entrance and exit,” said Randzio, adding that the playground will be closed and locked, and tables and chairs will not be provided for customers. In addition, musicians will not be performing as has happened in previous years.
“We will arrange vendors in a contiguous single line, with six feet in between tents,” said Randzio. “We will mark the pavement or grass where customers will stand in six-foot increments between and in front of vendor tables.”
Randzio said customers will move in a one-way pattern marked by arrows, and will move in a single file line by household.
“A specified by-pass traffic lane will be marked on the opposite side of the aisle from the customer line for vendor tents to separate moving customers from those who are waiting at a vendor table,” said Randzio. “There will be no backtracking or wandering allowed.”
Also, Randzio reminded shoppers that pets are not allowed at the market unless they are service animals that are identified with a vest.
“Pets encourage socializing and congregating and those activities need to be minimized at farmers’ markets right now to protect everyone’s health,” said Randzio. “During the COVID-19 crisis, we are encouraging shoppers to get in, do their shopping, and get out as quickly as possible.”
With new market hours from 12 – 5 p.m. every Thursday through early fall, Randzio is hopeful that vendors and shoppers will once again grace the lawn of the Episcopal Church of the Atonement on Court Street.
For updates on vendors who are returning to the market, visit westfieldfarmersmarket.org.
“What will feel most different about the market is that it has been specifically designed not to be the fun, lively, community gathering space that we all have come to enjoy,” said Randzio. “Our role is now to be a source of affordable, healthy, locally grown food, especially for those suffering from food scarcity, and to support local agriculture. We must feed people while at the same time protecting the health of our community, vendors, customers, and volunteers. Although we will miss the fun, we are committed to providing an essential service to the people of Westfield and the surrounding communities.”