While there were only seven vendors open and new health safeguards in place, the South Cariboo Farmers Market officially kicked off its season on Friday, May 1.
Farmers markets in B.C. who, because of their status as a food supplier like grocery stores, remain open for business. This is only allowed, however, if vendors are able to social distance and all in attendance are selling food rather than crafts and other farmers market fare.
The opening of this iteration of the South Cariboo Farmers Market was the second time that market manager Amanda Patterson has been in charge of the market. Patterson has been a member of the community for the last two years and said that she’s been enjoying all that the Cariboo has to offer.
“Last year one of the big things for me was watching the teachers and preschoolers come through and have the kids learn more about the market and the farmers, that was definitely a highlight for me last year,” Patterson said.
This year, however, due to the pandemic the thing she’s most enjoyed seeing so far is how the vendors of the market are supporting each other and how the community is supporting the market. Even though they were only seven vendors strong, when usually they have around 84, Patterson said everyone who came to the market thanked them for opening. In times of strife, she observed, is when people often learn what community really means and she is happy to see that hold true.
The vendors included Big Rock Ranch, Helmcken Chocolates, Soulstice Herbals, Blue Bunch Farms, Horse Lake Co-Op Farm and CEEDs, Summit Creek Sausage and Timothy Lake Farms, Patterson said.
“I have to be quite honest, Friday morning I was very, very nervous. I think there is a lot of fear in not just our community but globally right now and fear changes how people act and speak,” Patterson said.
Despite the negative feedback from some after the announcement the market would be opening and her own fears about maintaining safety and cleanliness, Patterson said that overall things went smoothly and the feedback she received has encouraged her and the vendors going forward.
Beyond reducing their numbers to seven food providers, per provincial guidance, Patterson said they’ve designated an entrance and exit for the market, to control the flow of traffic and are limiting the number of customers able to be in the market at one time. Each vendor meanwhile, must have two people at their booth, one to handle cash and one to handle the product to avoid possible cross-contamination. All vendors must also have a handwashing station within their booths on top of three hand sanitizing stations scattered through the market, including at the entrance and exit.
Volunteers are posted at the entrance and exit to guide customers and monitor their numbers, Patterson said, which need to be under 50.
In an effort to continue to support artisans and those unable to attend the market currently, Patterson said they’re working on an online store that people can use to order their products. As a whole, she describes the new market practices as a big education process for everyone.
Physically the market is still being held in front of the 100 Mile House Community Hall located on Third and Birch Street on Fridays and is only running from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m., rather than 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Patterson also wants prospective customers to know the market does not currently have access to a public washroom. They’re also asking people to park in the public lots on Cedar Avenue.
In addition to thanking all the volunteers who put on the market, Patterson would like to give a special thank you to Gopher Rentals for supplying pylons to mark off the area, Blissed Out Yoga and Fitness for providing them hand sanitizer and Andrea Blair for making and donating face masks for the vendors.
As to when she plans to resume normal market activities, Patterson said she can’t even begin to think about that until such time as the province allows it. For now, her goal is just to do her part to keep the community healthy and hopefully ensure the restrictions will be able to be lifted soon. They can, however, go up to a max of 12 vendors in their space so when more food producers are ready to sell their wares, they will be able to.
“I just want to thank the community for giving us the opportunity to continue to run and for supporting us,” Patterson said. “We just have to stick together and support each other and grow together. We have an opportunity right now to actually know where your food comes from and change the way people eat. There’s no better place to do that than your local farmers market.”