The first weekend of May is usually a cause for celebration as the Turlock Certified Farmers Market rolls back into town, but this year the coronavirus pandemic has forced the weekly outdoor shopping event to open a month later in June.
Despite nearby markets like Modesto’s operating in the heat of the COVID-19 crisis, TCFM opted for a later start in order to prepare for a safe opening, Board President Brandon Follett said.
“It’s a tough decision because obviously farmers markets are considered essential food so we can be open. It’s just that there are so many precedents and things that we need to modify to keep everybody safe. We felt like it made more sense to push the market back and not open early,” Follett said. “There were too many unknowns.”
California entered the early stages of reopening the economy this week, though the select few businesses that are allowed to open have to abide by safety and social distancing measures. The farmers market in downtown Turlock will look a little bit different when it opens June 6, with measures much like those adopted in grocery stores being taken to keep attendees safe: spaced out lines, minimal product handling, contactless payment when possible and plenty of hand sanitizer.
“It’s really tough for a market to open in this environment because you have to educate everybody,” Follett said. “You’re trying to create excitement and get people there, but at the same time you don’t want everybody there. It’s a weird dichotomy, especially in Turlock because (the market) is such a social thing.”
Other than the later opening day and new social distancing measures, not much has changed for the market. They’re still welcoming new vendors this year, though some special events normally planned for June will have to be postponed. None of the market’s usual vendors have had to drop out due to economic stress, but one booth owned by an elderly couple has decided not to participate this year out of fear for their health.
Follett added that the later opening shouldn’t hurt their vendors financially.
“We felt like delaying it a little bit wouldn’t hurt anybody too much because summer produce isn’t in season,” he said. “A lot of our vendors aren’t necessarily hurting for a place to sell because other markets are open. And they're not fully stocked right now anyway, so we felt like it was a good mix.”
It’s the Board’s hope that by opening later, California will be further along in its reopening phases and some retail businesses will then be permitted, allowing for TCFM booths which sell non-essential items to operate during the market.
“Everybody’s anxious to open, asking, ‘What’s the plan? When can we get started?’” Follett said.
He added that there could be a chance the market stays open later into the season due to the postponed opening, but that decision will be made later in the year as TCFM sees how the pandemic plays out. The market typically runs through the last week of September.
This latest pandemic-caused setback comes just one year after TCFM finally returned to its downtown home after being ousted to the fairgrounds by a competing market in 2016. The market’s downtown return was met with steady crowds last year, and Follett believes the community will continue to support TCFM despite the circumstances.
“It’s funny because it seems like every couple of years we have one of these setbacks where something we didn’t expect or plan for happens,” he said. “I think, in general, it’s positive that we were able to move back downtown and gain some momentum versus the previous location, where it might have been a bit tougher to get people there...I think it will help us to weather the storm.”