To me, the Farmer’s Market is the heart and soul of a community. For many, it is a weekly or weekend ritual where you catch up with old friends and meet new, interesting people. For visitors, it’s a quick way to get to know the feel of a community. Farmer’s markets also enable you to stay connected to the land through your food. Not only do you get to meet the people that grew your favorite produce, honey and flowers, you can also meet the artists and learn the story behind the unique textiles, botanicals and gifts.
Thankfully, the Bellingham Farmers Market has managed to adapt to the many changes caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19. The Market remains open as an essential—but modified—service to the community.
I recently spoke with the Market Director Lora Liegel about what’s changed to ensure public health and safety as well as all the quality food and craft vendors that you can still access every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Dec. 21, 2020.
What Has Changed Due to COVID-19
Before COVID-19, the Market offered about 100 food and craft vendors to the public each week. Since closures began in March 2020, the Modified Market now offers approximately 40 vendors each week, currently only in outdoor spaces, and with more space between vendors to accomplish social distancing. Craft vendors were able to return to the Market as of July 4, 2020.
A full list of all of the 2020 vendors is available on the Market website so that you can still find your favorites, even if they have not yet returned to the Market in person. One new addition to the Market this year is the Lummi-owned Coast Salish Coffee Company. In addition to offering empowering employment opportunities for skilled tribe members, Coast Salish Coffee also donates 20% of every sale of their organically-grown Guatemalan beans to charities, including Bellingham’s Lydia Place and Saved in America.
Lydia Place focuses on disrupting the cycle of homelessness in Whatcom County. Saved in America is a group of volunteer private investigators that assist parents and law enforcement in locating missing, runaway and exploited children—the groups most vulnerable to sexual trafficking. They also assist victims of sexual trafficking with legal representation, safe housing and rehabilitative therapy. Since December 2014, the group has recovered 238 children. Stop by the Coast Salish Coffee booth at the market or order online to make a difference through your morning cup of coffee.
Lora mentioned that the Market continues to re-evaluate and monitor its policies and procedures to ensure the safety of patrons and vendors. So even though plans for each phase are in place, additional changes could occur if needed to prevent the spread of the virus. They’ll share any updates or further changes on their website.
Access to the Market is now limited to a couple of entrances and exits to safely restrict the number of visitors inside at any one time. Thankfully, Lora reports that they generally do not have long lines or waiting times because most patrons come in and spend their time efficiently, shopping quickly and then heading out to make room for other shoppers. The quietest time to come by is the final hour of the market each week. The Market generally allows 3 to 5 customers per vendor inside the market area.
Even before the county and state-wide cloth mask mandates were put in place, Lora reported that 90% of attendees had already been wearing masks. The County order became effective as of May 22, 2020, and as of June 24, 2020, the Washington State Department of Health requires everyone to wear a cloth face-covering in public when you cannot stay six feet (or two meters) away from others. Since then, the Market has required that everyone who enters the Market area must wear a cloth facemask.
Thanks to the Whatcom County Mask Collective, the Market is able to offer a free mask to anyone that would like to enter who is in need of one. Social distancing (staying at least six feet apart from anyone not in your household) is also required at the Market, even in outdoor spaces.
To save time and ensure their customers get what they’re looking for each week, many of the Market vendors have been offering the option to pre-order online. Although it was more popular when Whatcom County was in Phase 1, Lora anticipates that vendors will continue to offer this service no matter what phase the community is in, as long as the market remains open.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares—where families sign up in advance and commit to a weekly box of fresh produce from a single farm—are still quite popular at the Market. Some farmers use the Market as the weekly pick up location. Although some of the farms have not yet returned to in-person vending at the Market, they are offering 6-week CSAs as a way to deliver food to the community. Farms like Mariposa Farm, owned by Lis and Joaquin Lopez in Everson began offering CSA’s as a new service this year.
You might also notice that all prepared food is “to-go” only. The Market has made this choice for a couple of important reasons. Eliminating seating for the consumption of food reduces the risk of spread and lets more customers in the Market while maintaining social distancing.
I’m excited to try some bread from Sophie Williams of Raven Breads. She bikes to the Market each week with her wholemeal, sourdough and pastry breads and cookies made fresh in Bellingham each week. She also offers weekly bread subscriptions and one-time bread and cookie orders with pickup sites in five Bellingham neighborhoods as well as pre-order of bread and cookies for Saturday pick up and the Market. Yum!
For the time being, busking and other live music, and vending by children as well as community organizations and nonprofits have been suspended from the Market until further notice. These fun and informative experiences will return when the risk is lower and Whatcom County has moved into Phase 4.
Unfortunately, the mid-week Wednesday Farmer’s Market that used to be held in Barkley Village has been placed on hold for the remainder of the year. However, Lora plans that a mid-week market will reopen in a different location sometime in 2021.
Programs for Those in Need
The Market recognizes that many people are experiencing financial difficulties right now because of lost wages or the slowdown in the economy. Most Market vendors have made a special effort to accept Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards (formerly known as food stamps) as payment for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users. The Market invites any EBT/SNAP cardholder to come to the Market information booth for free EBT tokens that can be spent on fresh produce. Their Market Match program doubles EBT benefits up to $20 to $50 extra to be used at the Market toward fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables, herbs, mushrooms and food seeds and plants.
For those that don’t yet feel comfortable shopping at the Market, one way to show your support during this unpredictable time is to make a donation. Donations received support sustainable agriculture and small local farms and artisans. They also ensure the availability of healthy, nutritious food and a solid local economy.
What to Expect in Phase 3
Because the Market is considered an essential service, it will likely remain open regardless of the Phase that Whatcom County has designated. Only how their services are delivered will change as phases change. Once Whatcom County can safely transition to Phase 3 and beyond, the Market will resume use of its covered pavilion space. Lora expects many craft vendors, such as jewelry makers and potters, to return to the Market at that time. Additional hot food vendors are also likely to return during Phase 3.
Lora notes that in Phase 3 and perhaps Phase 4, mask requirements and social distancing will remain at the Market to ensure the safety of our farmers, artisans and their families, as well as the general public.
A weekly visit to the Market gives you something fun and positive to look forward to and ensure you’re eating healthy and locally! Plan your next visit soon to help support the hard-working farm and arts vendors of Whatcom County.