Vendors are preparing for the opening of the Parsons Farmers Market Tuesday in Forest Park.
They are working to keep themselves and shoppers as safe as possible, while still providing the fresh produce, baked goods, jellies and other items that people have come to enjoy each year.
“A lot of what we have taken is from the Kansas Department of Ag and Kansas Department of Health and Environment, so we are following their rules to stay safe,” Gretchen Sassenrath, market director, said.
“There is a couple of things we have done. We’re going to do what has been called ‘shop with your eyes.’ So vendors will have a list on the table in front of them of what they have available. People will not actually be able to touch the items. In other words, they can’t pick up the zucchini squash and say, ‘This is what I want,’” Sassenrath said.
People can tell the vendors what they want in regard to size, color, etc. The items will be pre-bagged, and the person can pay and the vendor will hand them a bag.
“That will reduce the number of people touching an item and then not buying it,” Sassenrath said. “I know that will be a little frustrating not getting to pick your own, but it will keep everybody safe, where only the farmer will be touching the stuff. That is probably the biggest change. A lot of people might find that a little bit frustrating, but we really have to be careful about not spreading (the coronavirus). We are very concerned about keeping everybody safe. We know there are no cases in Labette County right now, but we want to keep it that way.”
Another measure Parsons Farmers Market is taking is to expand the area, giving more space between vendors, so people may have to walk around a little bit more. Because the market is outside, there is less concern should someone unknowingly have the virus, but more space will still allow for distancing between buyers and vendors.
Buyers are asked not to crowd around vendors and to keep within recommended distancing as much as possible. It is also recommended people wear a mask.
Sassenrath said one other measure vendors are taking is they will use new plastic bags rather than reusing bags.
“We purchased bags new, and that’s what’s going to be used this year. People are encouraged to bring their own bags to the market, too. That would help,” she said.
The guidelines encourage a cashless market, but Parsons Farmers Market is not able to do that entirely.
“There are a few of our vendors that are able to take cards. They have the Square app, but a lot of our vendors are not able to take cards, so we will be taking cash,” Sassenrath said.
Vendors are very excited about getting back into the swing of things, even if a little late.
“With the wet weather, there has not been much produce coming in anyway,” she said. “It’s just now coming in now. I’m hoping we still have some asparagus, but we may be past asparagus at this time. … One guy has baked goods and jellies available. This time of year it’s some of the hardier stuff like turnips, onions, radishes. There is dill bread, which I adore. There are cookies and there are hand crafts. ”
One last thing Sassenrath wanted to let people know about was the status of the Kansas Area Agency on Aging’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, commonly called the senior voucher program. The program provides people over a certain age and under a certain income level with six $5 vouchers that can be used to buy produce, fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.
“We were wondering because of all the limitations if we were going to be able to have the voucher program this year. They just informed me yesterday, ‘Yes, we will have the voucher, but it will probably be a month late.’ We are not positive they will have it, but we are hoping. We usually start handing the vouchers out June 1, but it is probably going to be at least July 6 because of the July 4 holiday. The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) manages those. They are having difficulty getting them printed and sent out because of all the closures because of the virus,” Sassenrath said.
She said they will let the public know as soon as they do when the vouchers will be made available.
“It’s always a very popular program,” Sassenrath said. “It is a great program actually. Folks have been asking about that. Again, it’s so up in the air what we’re going to be able to do, but I was very glad it looks like they are working on it. I just don’t know when we’ll actually get the vouchers, but it will at least be July. I am hoping it is not too much later than that because we will be at the end of the growing season already.”
Those interested in selling products at the market need not register in advance, and there are no market fees for vendors.
“We do not charge fees. A lot of markets do. We do not, so folks can just show up,” Sassenrath said. “We will be opening next Tuesday on the northeast corner of Forest Park.”
Vendors need to bring their own tables and chairs.
The market will be open from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday and 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday unless there is thunder and lightning in the area.
If anyone wants to purchase goods but has trouble with limited mobility, if they pull up to the market area and honk their horn, someone can come up and find out what they want and shop for them.
“The restrooms are now open in the park,” Sassenrath said. “Make a day of it and come on out, get the kids out and spend some time at the park.”