The Quesnel Farmers’ Market is set to open on May 2, but it will look and feel much different than previous years, as organizers implement new safety guidelines due to COVID-19.
“It will not be your grandpa’s farmers’ market, that’s for sure,” said Quesnel Farmers’ Market manager Tim Cawdell. “With all the issues that we’ve got with COVID-19, there’s going to be a lot of changes to the market.”
The Province of British Columbia declared a state of emergency in order to support the province-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 18, on March 26, the Province released a list of essential services, which included farmers’ markets.
The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) released a set of guidelines specifically for farmers’ markets to follow during the pandemic in order to ensure the safety of patrons and vendors.
The BCCDC guidelines for markets open during the pandemic include limiting the number of patrons into the market at a given time to ensure physical distancing is possible; directing traffic through the market via tape, ropes, barriers or other markers; ensuring that vendors are spaced adequately apart; and hand washing and/or hand sanitizing stations must be provided.
Until the provincial state of emergency is lifted, the Quesnel Farmers’ Market will be following the guidelines to keep the community safe while promoting local businesses. The market will only be allowing 50 customers into the grounds at a time to ensure safe physical distancing can be observed.
“We have to monitor the attendance — we have to actually put a barrier up around the site so that people will have to enter from one point and exit from one point — we have to, of course, practise social distancing, and only food that has been prepared off-site will be available, so there’s no food trucks, there’s no restaurant-type things because we basically have to adopt a ‘shop, don’t stop’ mentality,” said Cawdell.
The BCCDC has also released a list of restricted activities and goods which will not be available at farmers’ markets at this time. Under the temporary guidelines, markets and vendors will only be allowed to sell food items such as fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs; frozen pre-packaged meats and frozen ready-to-eat pre-packaged foods; home-prepared low-risk foods; higher-risk foods prepared in an approved facility; pre-packaged non-alcoholic beverages; liquor only in sealed retail containers (such as bottles and cans); take-away meals from food carts and food trucks; and edible plants and seedlings.
The BCCDC has also mandated that farmers’ markets must cancel all activities and programming that encourage social gathering; therefore, markets will not be allowed to host demonstrations or live music, and food sampling will not be allowed, along with alcohol-by-the-glass sales and “dine-in” foods.
“Rather than people coming in and saying ‘I want this or that;’ we can’t have them browsing, and we need to keep things moving,” said Cawdell. “In the past, people have been able to grab a snack, sit down and listen to some entertainment and hang out — it’s been an event rather than just a shopping type of thing. Now, it’s got to be just a shop and then leave kind of deal.”
A brand-new initiative the Quesnel Farmers’ Market has taken on due to the pandemic has been to offer a virtual market, giving potential customers the ability to order online from vendors ahead of time and pick up their items on market day, thus minimizing the amount of time spent on the market grounds.
Cawdell says vendor applications have been coming in a little slower this year due to the restrictions, particularly from artisans who sell non-food items, which are currently prohibited to be sold at the market. However, he hopes that this will change as artisans begin to take advantage of the online market, which will allow them to advertise and sell their items privately until the restrictions are lifted and the physical market can host them again.
“People that aren’t doing things that are food-related are basically left in a wait-list situation because we are waiting until we can bring them in,” said Cawdell. “That is where the online market is going to help us out. People can go to localline.ca, and, say they find a bowl they want from one of our artisans, they can arrange to have a meeting somewhere or get it delivered to them. They just won’t be able to go into the market yet.”
Cawdell says that while some of the vendors have been disappointed with the temporary restrictions, they all understand these measures are for the safety of the community.
“The vendors are good; they understand when we explain the reasonings behind our decisions,” he said. “There have been a couple that get a little upset because that’s their livelihood at stake, and we understand that. You know, there are people here that sell at several markets in the area and that’s their whole business, but they understand that it’s safety first.”
Cawdell says the Quesnel Farmers’ Market is not only a service that connects customers to quality local products, but it has also grown to be a important social hub for the community over the years, and it is unfortunate that this will change for the time being, but he is hopeful for the future.
“The farmers’ market has always been one of my favourite places to go just to say hi to my friends and hang out and see what’s happening,” he said. “You run across people you haven’t seen for awhile and you visit, and that’s not what’s going to happen this year, but as we flatten that curve and hopefully things start to open up, then we can get back to normal.”
The Quesnel Farmers’ Market will be open on the Helen Dixon Centre grounds at the corner of Kinchant Street and Carson Avenue every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., starting May 2.
Cawdell encourages anyone with question or concerns about this year’s market to send him a note at email@example.com, and he will respond to them promptly.