Stowe Farmers Market

Patrons enjoying the Stowe Farmers Market in May 2019.

The Stowe Farmers Market will be different this year.

Remember the tourist-laden social event of years past? Well, forget it.

During the pandemic, the Vermont Department of Agriculture has ruled out live music, craft booths and freshly prepared food at farmers markets. While it’s not prohibited, perusing the food stands and goods is strongly discouraged.

It’s recommended that customers order and pay for their purchases ahead of time and quickly retrieve the goods without spending too much time at the market.

The Stowe Farmers Market is trying to figure out how to operate while adhering to those rules, and it isn’t yet clear when it will open or what it will look like.

The market had planned to open Sunday, May 17, but that’s on hold until the market’s board of directors adopts a plan that serves both customers and producers and keeps everyone save, said Heather Mallory, president of the Stowe Farmers Market board and owner of Green Seed Herbals.

A big challenge is regulating how many people are at the market. In the past, the market had more than 40 booths; this year, without crafts and prepared foods, there will be about 20, Mallory said.

All vendors will need a system that allow customers to order in advance, so they can pick up those orders at the market or have them brought to the car.

“They are allowing some in-person shopping, but that should be kept pretty minimal,” Mallory said, and organizers will have to monitor shoppers closely and discourage people from wandering around.

Jason Pacioni, the board vice president and owner of Black Diamond Barbeque, said board members will visit the Montpelier Farmers Market this weekend and take notes.

“No one wants to rush into anything and cause an unsafe atmosphere,” Pacioni said.

More local business?

Farmers hope the changes might actually improve their sales by drawing more local residents.

Sue Wells, owner of Farmer Sue Farm in Bakersfield, sells all her products — pickles, vegetables, and chicken and duck eggs — at the Stowe and Burlington farmers markets.

When the pandemic caused uncertainty about this year’s farmers markets, she set up a website, started making deliveries and began building a farm stand.

“I was going to open the farm stand whenever I could, but now I’m waiting on the market,” she said.

She doesn’t expect the markets to be busy, but hopes new customers will show up.

“I always heard there were too many tourists, and that’s why the locals don’t come out,” she said. “I’m hoping more of our locals would come out more than they normally do.”

Molly Pindell, owner of Sage Farm Goat Dairy in Stowe, does a third of her sales at farmers markets. She said business has been good, but it would be tough to lose those farmers market sales.

“All the farmers who participate in the market will see a drop in sales, there’s no way around that, but hopefully we’ll attract new customers and keep them in the long run,” Pindell said.

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