After a one-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the farmers market in Forest Grove opened for the season Wednesday, June 3.
The farmers market, which has been run by the nonprofit Adelante Mujeres since 2005, is a staple for the community during the warmer months, bringing about 2,000 visitors to downtown each Wednesday evening.
The coronavirus prompted a lot of changes at this market, and at many others in the region, this year. Hand sanitizer is available at each booth and at controlled entrances and exits. Vendors won't give free samples. And live music, often heard for blocks in previous years, wasn't playing Wednesday. All vendors were wearing facial coverings and most market-goers were too.
"It's going OK so far. It's slow," said Lene Zurita, assistant manager for Crawford's Nursery and Produce farm stand, about an hour after the market opened June 3.
Zurita said people were being respectful of the changes this year. She was disappointed to see the reduction in attendance, however.
"We get it, though," Zurita said.
After buying strawberries and asparagus from Zurita, customer Justin Dale said he is glad to be back at the market.
"It's nice to have something that resembles normalcy," Dale said.
Customer Deana Madrid agreed, adding she didn't come to buy anything in particular. They planned to have dinner at the Old Town Vault restaurant on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Main Street, where the market begins. The first week of the market coincided with the first week people have been able to dine-in at restaurants, as Washington County moved to Phase 1 of reopening earlier this week.
"We just came to get some stuff and support people," Madrid said.
That support is much-needed for vendors, said Silvia Cuesta, manager of the farmer market.
"Farm businesses are suffering," Cuesta said, adding that postponed opening dates for farmers markets in the area, fewer customers, added costs and new workplace safety rules and precautions during harvests have been difficult to overcome. "They've been saying, 'I really need this income. I depend on a lot on the farmers markets.'"
She said it has been tough balancing the needs of businesses that rely on the market with concerns of many community members who are worried the market could cause an outbreak in an area of the county with the highest rates of COVID-19.
"The health and safety of our community is priority No. One," Cuesta said.
Cuesta has implemented other changes at the market, per recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon Farmers Markets Association, including separating vendors by 10 feet, encouraging vendors to designate social distancing monitors and suspending the consumption of hot food purchases at the market.
The spacing of booths reduced the total number of vendors that could sell at the market, and Cuesta said it was difficult to have to prioritize food sellers when selecting which businesses could operate.
About two hours into the market, Cuesta she the first week has been a learning experience. She had hoped to have more volunteers walking the market block to ensure customers and vendors were abiding by the new guidelines. Some volunteers who she expected to come didn't show up.
"There are a lot of things that need to be improved," Cuesta said. "We'll take it one week at a time and change things when we need to."
Adelante Mujeres created a new program this year to help people who are suffering economically due to the coronavirus or are vulnerable to COVID-19 and can't attend.
After canceling summer events, the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District directed unused funds to the market so that staff could purchase food from vendors and deliver it to people's homes, said Kaely Summers, health equity manager for Adelante Mujeres.
Summers said the nonprofit is also providing new vouchers for use at other farmers markets, including two in Hillsboro and at the new Cornelius farmers market, which is set to open in July.
The market accepts welfare benefits from the Women, Infants and Children program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but Summers said the new program is aimed at helping "families that maybe don't necessarily have SNAP or WIC for a variety of different reasons. Potentially their immigrant status."
Summers and Rosalia Dominquez, an early childhood educator at Adelante Mujeres who has been reaching out to families about their needs since the pandemic began, pulled a wagon filled with eggs, strawberries and other produce to later deliver to families.
They planned to deliver to four families and expect the number to increase in future weeks.
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