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Mask rules, capacity limitations don't deter vendors or shoppers at Hillsdale Farmers' Market

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Peter Weber of Barn Frog Farm gathers produce for a customer at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. Weber and other vendors say the weekly market affords shoppers distance, and fresh air. On an overcast Sunday morning, Peter Weber stood masked as he weighed handfuls of fresh zucchini, basil and herbs. Weber's Barn Frog Farm stand is one of several at the weekly Hillsdale Farmers' Market. The market, held Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at a parking lot adjacent to the Wilson High School campus, is open to on-site patrons, but things look different than they did a year ago.

Everyone is masked. Market goers are met at the entrance by an attendant who lets them in, when capacity allows. Shoppers are guided by one-way directional signage to encourage physical distancing, and asked to limit time inside to 20 minutes. Many vendors won't allow shoppers to touch the produce or fresh goods.

Vendors like Weber agree, it's a strange, but necessary approach.

"Everybody's really adapted," Weber said between customers. He said the safety measures in place have worked out well. "At this market, it seems 100% receptive. The way they've limited the [foot] traffic. Compared to a grocery store, this is an open air market. It's the place to be."

Prior to allowing shoppers back on site, market managers operated on a pre-order basis, using the market grounds as a drive-thru area for pick-ups. Market manager Eamon Molloy said because of COVID-19, some of the farms are experiencing labor shortages or loss of shared kitchen facilities.

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Shoppers peruse booths at the Hillsdale Farmers Market in July. The market is open, but masks are required at all times and capacity is limited to 65 people.  "All in all, between the space needed to ensure safe distancing and pandemic-related operation issues for vendors, we currently have about 15 fewer vendors than the same time of year in 2019," Molloy noted. "In percentage terms, that works out to be about a 35% loss in stall fees."

And as for the new restrictions?

"We have gotten a certain amount of grief about the masks, but much less over time," Molloy noted in late July. "There is grumbling about waiting in line too."

Molloy is asking households to only send one to two people, to allow other shoppers into the market.

Still, folks are eager to stock up on fresh summer produce again, even if it means wearing a mask, going alone, and waiting in line to get in.

Marcella Roberts attended the market with her family on July 12. Roberts wasn't thrilled about wearing a mask mid-summer, but the burden was minor compared to the benefits.

"I don't personally like wearing it, because I'm pregnant and I can't breathe, but other than that, I'm happy to do it," Roberts noted. For her, the farmers market was a welcome departure from shopping at a grocery store.

"I felt like there was more room to keep the distance, and less surfaces to touch," she said. "The one-way system was good."

While the Hillsdale market has enforced a mask rule and capacity limits, some say safety measures at regional farmers' markets vary, depending on location.

"Some places, it's kind of your choice, but they recommend it," Will Rathbone said, as he waited out the last hour from a Hummus Stop booth.

Others noted a market in Washington County with much larger crowds, where mask requirements weren't strictly enforced. Since then, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown extended the state's indoor mask requirement, to include outdoor spaces where physical distancing isn't possible.

Currently, the Hillsdale market is scheduled to continue through November 22, with two additional dates Dec. 6 and 20. For updates and pre-orders, visit the market website...


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