After weeks of uncertainty and public outcry, Delaware farmers’ markets have been given the green light by Gov. John Carney to open after an initial ban due to the COVID-19 virus state-of-emergency.
Bethany Beach’s traditional Sunday market will open on Sunday, June 6, according to Bethany Beach Landowners’ Association President Doug Mowery. Just to the south, the market at Sea Colony will open on Wednesday, June 10, according to its chair, Henry Bennett.
Both men expressed relief that the markets, long a mainstay of summers at the beach, will be permitted to open. Farmers’ markets were initially not included in the State’s list of essential businesses, while other businesses selling food, even tangentially, were allowed to stay open.
Mowery said on Tuesday, May 19, that he had just sent out “revised” vendor agreements to the 12 vendors who he hopes will be setting up shop in the Bethany Beach town parking lot on Garfield Parkway, as well as the adjacent PNC Bank lot, this summer. With the agreement, he said, is a 10-page guide to new restrictions that are necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also included is a map of how the market will need to be laid out to follow social-distancing guidelines.
While markets will be allowed this summer in Delaware, they may seem a bit pared down from previous years, since there will be no entertainment, no demonstrations, and no tables at which to sit and sample some of the produce sold at the market.
Customers will be directed to proceed through the market in a single direction, no more than two customers per vendor at a time, and crowds will be monitored to make sure safe distances are able to be maintained.
Mowery praised the support of town officials in Bethany Beach as market organizers proceeded forward while unsure they would be permitted to open.
“The Town has been so cooperative, as they always are,” he said.
He said he is asking the vendors to commit to the market by Friday, May 22. The market is scheduled to be open every Sunday morning from June 7 through the Sunday before Labor Day.
While waiting for a decision from Carney, Mowery said, he visited farmers’ markets in neighboring Maryland, where they were never banned and operations were already under way for the season.
He said that when he visited a market in Berlin, Md. on a recent weekend, he was found that customers seemed to be following the well-known social-distancing guidelines of staying 6 feet apart, and that “almost everyone had a mask on.”
“There was a pretty healthy crowd at 8:30 on a Sunday morning,” Mowery said.
Bennett said that Sea Colony’s market has always been strictly a place to buy produce, so the regulations regarding entertainment and food demonstrations won’t affect the market, which has been held at Sea Colony for more than a decade.
He said the Sea Colony market will host nine vendors, including eight farmers who will bring produce including “a plethora of heirloom tomatoes,” as well as peaches, blueberries, string beans, corn, and other fruits and vegetables, as well as one baker.
“It’s a lot safer than what you’re getting at grocery store” Bennett asserted. “We have a supply chain of two links — we’re picking it that morning and bringing it to Sea Colony.”
One new rule at the market this year, Bennett said, is that customers will not be able to touch the produce; instead, they will tell the vendors what they want, and the vendors will bag the items.
Bennett said he doesn’t think customers will mind that too much — after all, he said, each of the vendors is from a farm that has been going for several generations, and they know how to pick a tomato, whether the customer wants to eat it that day or save it for a few days.
While Bennett said it was “perplexing” that farmers’ markets were banned in Delaware while they were allowed in New York City, which has been an epicenter for coronavirus cases, he is grateful for the public outcry that may have helped sway the governor to allow them to open. “It’s a testament to how Delawareans are connected to their food source,” Bennett said, and how on Delmarva “your growers really are your neighbors.”
He said state officials had reached out to market organizers and asked them and their vendors to help come up with a plan whereby the markets could operate while keeping both vendors and customers safe.
“It was a relief,” when Carney announced the change last week, Bennett said. “We would much rather farm than lobby.”