British Columbia

B.C.'s farmers markets set to open, but with new physical distancing protocols

Farmers markets throughout B.C.’s Interior and South Coast are ramping up for their spring seasons, but COVID-19 has forced them to make some changes to how they operate. 

Limiting customers and vendors is the key for maintaining distance

Vendors and customers alike are asked to maintain physical distancing when visiting the Kelowna farmer's market. (Frances Callaghan)

Many farmers markets in B.C. are ramping up for their spring seasons, but COVID-19 has forced them to make changes to how they operate. 

Limiting the number of vendors and customers coming into the market, offering curbside pickup and putting up physical distancing signage — all similar to changes some grocery stores have made — have been part of planning this year's farmers markets. 

"There's a few extra steps involved this year," said Greg Unger, manager of the Kamloops farmers market in B.C.'s central Interior. "In addition to all of the normal startup procedures, we are obviously doing a lot to make sure that we're opening safely for the public."

In Kamloops, that means closing off all entrances except for one so organizers can count people as they come and go, only allowing 50 people in the market space at once. The playground nearby will be closed, and no buskers or live music will be on hand to liven up the scene.

No dogs will be allowed, and Unger will be walking around encouraging people not to stop to chat with friends. 

They've also had to limit vendors to food-only because food is considered essential, but artisans are not. 

Customers will not be allowed to touch produce as they usually would when trying to find the perfect tomatoes or check the ingredients in a product — instead, they will have to indicate to the vendor which item they'd like so they can get it for them, minimizing the number of people coming into contact with it.

Signs encouraging customers to get in and get out are one of the ways the Kelowna farmers market is adjusting to COVID-19. (Frances Callaghan)

Kelowna's farmers market, which usually hosts up to 100 vendors, is now down to 15. In limiting the number of vendors, they've been able to ensure there are a variety of products — from meats and cheese to vegetables and baking — without too much overlap. It also gives vendors more space between stalls. 

Similar to Kamloops, only 50 customers will be allowed at a time at markets in the Okanagan cities of Kelowna and Vernon. 

Some vendors from markets all over the province have put their products online, with pickup and delivery options for customers.

Vernon's market manager Ingrid Baron said their market is down to about 25 vendors from 40, simply because they also had to cut artisans from the roster. They've created wider aisles and are installing handwashing stations throughout the market. 

"I'm hoping it'll work out, she said. "I'm thinking it will."

The Vancouver Farmers Market says it's going ahead with all six of its locations with social distancing and safety measures in place.

"What that means on the ground at the individual markets is still being worked out, though we are working closely with the city, park board, and [Vancouver Coastal Health] on all of our summer plans," a spokesperson wrote in an email, adding more details will be coming next week. 

In the Victoria area, Esquimalt Farmers Market and Moss Street Market are the only two operating, according to Esquimalt's manager Katrina Dwulit. The James Bay Market will open in May.

The Esquimalt market was expecting up to 45 vendors at the outdoor market, but only had 13 last Thursday. It has cut artisans, food trucks and musicians and is focusing only food sales. 

Some markets, like the Prince George Farmers Market, are not running at all but do have online offerings.

With files from Daybreak Kamloops and Daybreak South

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