Farmers market season is highly anticipated by both farmers and shoppers as a great time to mingle over kettle corn, fresh produce, honey, backyard eggs and live music. The markets give neighbors a chance to visit, and farmers an opportunity to sell directly to the people who will eat their crop for dinner.
The Inland Northwest’s finnicky, short growing season brings challenges: sudden nocturnal temperature drops threaten to freeze tender seedlings that were scorched by the hot midday sun just 12 hours earlier – farmers look forward to a feeling of relief when that first truckload of produce heads off to the market.
Over the last 20 years farmers markets have blossomed in many cities and neighborhoods. City dwellers wander among the weekly booths – touch a potato here, sniff a flower there and maybe sample a scone. The markets bring chefs in direct contact with the people who grow the lettuce they will serve at dinner, and everyone gains from the experience.
This year was a little different as COVID-19 arrived just before the markets were getting ready to open. Many markets delayed their opening day causing some frustration among growers who had trucks bursting with produce ready to head to town. Federal and state regulations for shopping changed weekly and some began to worry that farmers markets wouldn’t open at all. But most markets eventually popped up their canopies, unfolded their tables and hoped shoppers would turn out.
The shopping experience is a little different because COVID-19 social distancing rules in most cases mean there are fewer booths than last year. The markets we visited all have sanitizing stations and offer gloves and masks at the entrance. Foot traffic goes one way through the market and contrary to the nature of markets, shoppers are encouraged to get in and out as quickly as possible. Food trucks are rare as is live music and don’t expect any free samples.
In the middle of all the uncertainty The Little Market on 195 opened for the first time in Spangle and was well received. The Thursday Market returned to South Perry Street in a slightly different location allowing more space for booths, and the Spokane Valley Farmers Market reopened at CenterPlace.
Though it was a weird start to the season market managers and growers say the same thing: shoppers did turn out and business has been great – the Thursday market sold out on opening day – and the Spokane Farmers Market has been very busy.
So don’t wait around – grab a basket and head to the market – local growers need the business more than ever and they will be happy to see you.