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Seller and buyers at the Stillwater Farmers Market were face masks and social distance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

Shopping and eating local is easily accomplished at the Stillwater Farmers Market, which opened earlier this month with some modest adjustments to reduce risks related to the spread of COVID-19.

The farmers market, located adjacent to the Stillwater Veterans Memorial in the parking lot at Third and Pine streets, started on June 13 and continues each Saturday through October from 7:30 a.m. to noon.

“I think that it’s gone pretty well,” said farmers market manager Beverly Friendt. “The customers have been accommodating.”

Efforts have been made to spread out the vendors and customers.

“We closed the whole parking lot this year and spaced vendors out so they can be separated and it gives social distancing for customers,” Friendt said. “We have tried to have them go one direction, but that is hard to enforce because old habits die hard — I know in the store, I’ve gone the wrong way down an aisle.”

The new precautions and guidelines are nothing new for shoppers since the pandemic emerged this spring. Face coverings are encouraged and shoppers are expected to stay six feet apart and avoid socializing.

“I think the toughest one is face masks,” said Friendt, who noted the majority are wearing masks but acknowledged compliance is not mandatory. One of the customers she heard from has difficulty hearing, which is even more challenging with the masks.

“She reads lips, so that was a problem I hadn’t thought about,” Friendt said. “I shared that with the vendors and it’s kind of up to them. We encourage them to wear masks, but I’m not going to force it — and to have it on for four hours can be difficult, especially when it warms up.”

In addition, there are three sanitizing stations and customers are requested avoid touching food without permission.

“All in all, I think it’s going very well,” Friendt said. “We’ve had a lot of customers and they’ve been satisfied with the way it is. I’ve not had a complaint yet about having to do any of those things. I think the customers like the vendors being spaced out like that because as more produce comes in it can get really congested and crowded. It’s one thing we’re trying to avoid and that’s something we’ll follow throughout the summer and that’s just encouraging staying six feet apart and not letting them touch the produce. I think the vendors are real appreciative of that.”

Stillwater typically opens in the second week of June and that was also the case this year. It also allowed Friendt to observe how things went for other farmers markets that opened earlier. It varies by state, but farmers markets in Minnesota have been allowed to operate as essential grocery providers.

“I watched what went on (in St. Paul) and they started with some guidelines and by the second week had pulled back on some things so you kind of adjust from week to week depending on how the market is going and how customers are coming and going,” Friendt said.

Starting on Saturday for the first time this year, visitors are allowed to eat at the market and vendors are allowed to have samples available for customers.

“We’re kind of getting back to normal, a new normal as they call it,” Friendt said. “The rule is to not have more than 250 people and we don’t have that many people so that will work out just fine. It’s just the social distancing. We let people come with their kids and their dogs. We’ve always been a dog-friendly market and it allows people to socialize with their dogs.

“Just abide by the social distancing and we’ll be fine.”

The many familiar faces are a reminder that even with some changes, the Stillwater Farmers Market provides a valuable service to customers and vendors.

“I see us as kind of having to be there,” Friendt said. “The farmers have to sell their produce. They’ve already got it planted and they have to get rid of it.

“We have so many regular customers that come year after year, they’re on a first-name basis with many of the vendors,” Friendt said. “We’re a really unique little market and we like it that way. I think the customers do, too, and I think we have a lot of regulars because of that.”

Contact Stuart Groskreutz at stuart.groskreutz@apgecm.com

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