By SAMANTHA PIDDE
During this difficult time, organizer Stephanie Samuels said she hopes Mount Carroll's Farmers Market offers some normalcy to the community.
"What a challenging few months this has been. I believe that we are all in need of some community, camaraderie and some sense of normalcy again. Anything that we can do to get back to that, even in small increments, is a positive step," said Samuels, in an email.
"I know the that the community is starved for social interaction. The market is a wonderful way for us to gather, see neighbors, support local producers, and in a small way give the local economy a little boost. I hope that for now, everyone will feel welcome and safe."
She added that the food at the market has a shorter supply chain than items at a grocery store, providing fresh, local ingredients to the community.
"As vendors, we are ready to get back and excited to see our customers again," Samuels said.
This year's market will start this Saturday, June 6, and run every Saturday through the end of October. Market Hours are 8 a.m. to noon. Samuel acknowledged the farmer's market experience will be decidedly different this year. She has been working with volunteers and vendors to ensure the farmer's market offers a safe experience for its customers.
"Well, as we all know, this is a challenging year, and it brings with it some new guidelines for us farmers markets to follow," said Samuels about how the market will be set up this year. "Luckily, there has been a lot of information and guidance available from the Illinois Farmers Market Association, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and several online groups."
Samuels has visited several area markets, speaking with other market managers about their experiences. She said the support has been helpful in this uncertain time.
"It will require a bit more attention and awareness, not only on my part in setting up this year's market, but also extends to the vendors and customers,” she said. “I realize that some of the guidelines may seem a bit extreme, and yet, we are all in this together, and together I hope we can encourage following these guidelines so that all may enjoy a safe, fun, and profitable market.”
The farmer's market will be held downtown, along Market Street. Samuel plans to set up two tables at either end of the street where volunteers will be welcoming customers and explaining the guidelines for attending the market.
The market will work to maintain social distancing as much as possible. Booths will be placed a little farther apart than normal. Samuels and the market also will be encouraging customers to practice social distancing. Samuels will be placing distance markers in front of each booth, and encouraging customers to wait at these spots if the booth is already occupied.
"I'd like to keep it to one or two customers in a booth at a time so they don't get too crowded, and the vendor has space to help each individual as needed," Samuels said. "Things may take a bit longer than normal and I ask that everyone be patient as we all get used to this new way of doing things. The best recommendations I have for shoppers are to keep distance, be aware of others, be understanding and kind."
The market also will be requiring masks for everyone, both vendors and customers. During last week's Mount Carroll City Council meeting, Samuels asked officials for their opinions on how strictly the market should require masks and if the city would help her enforce the issue if necessary.
Ald. Mike Risko said he would like to see masks a requirement, equating it to the "no shoes, no shirt, no business" policy of most restaurants. Other members asked if she would have masks for anyone not bringing one.
Samuels has been picking up extra masks to have available for anyone without them. There will be some masks on hand at the welcoming tables, for a small charge, for those that come without one.
"No one enjoys wearing these masks, yet they are really necessary to currently keep everyone safe. My vendors will be wearing them, and I'd like to strongly encourage everyone else to wear one as well, especially if the six-foot distance can not be maintained," Samuels said.
She added if a person was alone in the market, away from people, they could remove the mask if necessary. Having visited other markets, Samuels said most area farmers markets are requiring masks.
"I feel that it is important to initially follow these guidelines since the state is just beginning to open up, more people will be visiting the area this summer, and we still really have no idea how this virus works. That said, as the season goes on, I'm looking forward to relaxing some of those if we can," Samuels stated.
The market will begin with a slightly reduced vendor list. Samuels said the state is regulating market venders to "essential vendors." The list includes such things as produce, baked goods, plants, meat and poultry and some prepared foods to go. The regulations also allow value-added products such as jams, jellies, syrups and honey. Vendors with health items such as masks and hand sanitizers can also be present.
Samuels said that craft and other artisan vendors are asked to wait until later in the season. She said she will try to set up any vendors she can as long as they can maintain appropriate social distancing.
"As the season progresses, we'll add in vendors as limitations ease up," Samuels said.
As Samuels gets everything ready for the 2020 Farmers Market season, she is asking for anyone available to volunteer for short time slots. Volunteers can contact her on the event's Facebook page.
The Mount Carroll Farmers Market Facebook page also will list items available each week, as well as any vendors taking pre-orders for quick pick-ups. This week's market will feature a large selection of produce, baked goods, food items, jelly, honey, eggs and much more.
Customers are asked to follow these guidelines while visiting the market:
•Please wear a mask when moving through market and especially when within six feet of others.
•Try not to touch products. Tell the vendor what you'd like and let them pass it to you.
•Maintain social distance when waiting in line.
•Please do not gather in front of booths.
•Be patient. We are all dealing with some new practices.
•Wash all produce before consuming.