Spring is in the air, flowers are in bloom and local farmers markets are opening just as Minnesota’s governor eased some restrictions about staying at home and gathering together.
Officials from the Lakes Area Growers Market and the Nisswa Farmers Market reported good attendance when they opened for the season earlier this month, but they also took precautions.
“We were very pleased actually,” said Burton Scripture, president of the Lakes Area Growers Market in Brainerd and Baxter, and vice president of the Nisswa Farmers Market.
The Lakes Area Growers Market — Brainerd’s opening day was Tuesday, May 12, at the Franklin Arts Center parking lot off Kingwood Street. The Brainerd market is open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays through October.
“We were apprehensive with this COVID thing going around and the adjustments that we’ve had to make for the market, but the response was quite good,” Scripture said.
There are restrictions on how close the tables are to the edge. There’s either a table in front or a rope or something to keep people from handling the product until they buy it.
Lakes Area Growers Market
The Lakes Area Growers Market — Baxter opening day was a few days earlier on May 8 at the Viking Land Harley-Davidson parking lot off Highway 210. The Baxter market is open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Fridays through October.
“Depending on the season, you can find anything that is grown locally. We’re talking radishes carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, squash … cut flowers in the fall,” Scripture said. “We have jams and jellies that are made in our own kitchens.”
Market vendors and customers tend to be health-conscious, so they mostly followed social distancing guidelines at this year’s markets due to the coronavirus without objections, he said.
“There’s a hand-wash station at the entrance where we hope that people coming to us will use and the vendors have used before they start,” Scripture said.
Under more relaxed orders announced Wednesday by Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesotans will be able Monday, May 18, to shop in stores, malls and other vendors open at half capacity and can gather in groups of 10 or less, for example, for family gatherings and church ceremonies.
“Our people are encouraged to wear masks,” Scripture said of the farmers market. “And we’re encouraging one-way traffic so that people can distance themselves from the other people at the market as well as the vendors.”
The Lakes Area Growers Market — and the Nisswa Farmers Market — offer asparagus, peas, green beans, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn, cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, lettuce, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, strawberries, apples and more.
“It’s the produce and the products that the people who are selling them actually eat themselves,” Scripture said.
Nisswa Farmers Market
Head down to the American Legion parking lot on Main Street on Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and chances are Marie Kirsch, owner of Knotty Pine Bakery in downtown Brainerd, can be found at the Nisswa Farmers Market.
“We've been talking with vendors and encouraging them to put an extra table out front of their stalls ... increasing the amount of distance between the vendor and the customer … and a place to place the product and exchange it without having to get too close,” Kirsch said.
The market opened May 7 offering farm-fresh produce and a variety of meat and dairy products sourced from local and sustainably raised animals — like the Lakes Area Growers Market — such as goat cheese, pork and beef products, buffalo meat and eggs from free-range hens.
“Ahead of the market, the board met and tried to put a plan in place for addressing, you know, health and safety concerns around COVID,” said Kirsch, board secretary-treasurer. “We’ve been kind of referencing the Midwest Farmers Market Association and the Department of Agriculture.”
The latest set of executive orders allowed Walz’s stay-at-home order to lapse Sunday. Separate orders allowed various businesses to reopen with new health and safety protocols in place and protections adjusted for workers.
“We are including a hand-washing station at the entrance of the market, so as people enter they can wash their hands. And then also the way that our market is oriented that would also be at the exit, so they’re able to wash their hands on exiting, too,” Kirsch said.
Chalk lines have also been used by officials at the farmers market to demonstrate how far — 6 feet — people should remain apart to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“And we’re trying to direct traffic flow to help minimize kind of cross-traffic, so that we’re again just able to allow customers to shop and maintain that 6-foot social distancing,” Kirsch said.
Also available at the Nisswa, the Brainerd and the Baxter farmers markets are locally sourced and harvested wild rice, honey, maple syrup, preserves, pickles and other canned goods from vendors.
“We have increased the space between vendor stalls, so that the vendors, themselves, are maintaining that 6-foot distance, and that also does help space the market out a little bit more, so customers have more room to shop while still maintaining social distance,” Kirsch said.
Shoppers at the Nisswa Farmers Market, who are encouraged to wear face masks, can also find small-batch lotions and soaps and handmade jewelry, rugs and textiles, according to officials.
“We put out on our Facebook page some safe shopping tips for our customers … encouraging them to make a list ahead of time and to only send one healthy shopper per family ... to help limit the amount of people that are there, so we’re again making sure we’re able to shop safely,” Kirsch said.