Phyllis Lehrer at the opening of the 2020 Amherst Farmers' Market. Photo: Meg Gage

The Amherst Farmers’ Market successfully opened on Saturday, May 30, with major accommodations for the COVID pandemic. Everyone seemed almost joyous to have the Market back, in spite of public safety adjustments mandated by the coronavirus. The Market has been moved from the parking lot between the North and South Commons to the perimeter of the South Common, with booths spread out several feet apart, taking up the same space as the Community Fair or about half of an acre.

No more crowded parking lot with shoppers rubbing shoulders, bumbling along from vendor to vendor, nibbling on treats they just purchased, reaching in across each other, hands over hands, to grab a head of lettuce or bunch of spinach or to snag that last striped German tomato start. Nonetheless, the core Amherst Farmers’ Market esprit was there. 

Shoppers now must approach the Market from an entrance on the northeast corner of the South Common in front of the Inn at Boltwood. The entrance is a pathway, demarcated by plastic tape on both sides, with 6-foot markers limed in the grass. Only 30 shoppers are allowed inside the market area at any time.  Waiting in line, 6 feet apart, customers slowly work their way to the welcome table, where a Farmers’ Market staff person explains that you must rotate in a clockwise circle around the booths, and if you want to go back to a booth you have already passed, you must go back to “go” and start over. Staff spray your hands with sanitizer and you’re on your way!  This opening day did not feel crowded at all. There was no wait when to enter when I arrived at 11 AM and I estimate that there were about 50 people shopping when I left around noon. 

Entrance to Amherst Farmers’ Market. Photo: Meg Gage
Posted social distancing rules at Amherst Farmers’ Market. Photo: Meg Gage

If a booth you are approaching has a customer, you have to wait at least 6 feet away until that person moves on. If you’re lucky, while you wait, you will spot a friend and can yell back and forth about what an astonishing time we’re living through and how neither of you has been out of your neighborhood for two months.

Customers, all wearing mandatory facemasks, rotate around the various booths encircling the Common. There is a wonderful mix of booths with lots of veggies, veggie plants, cheese, bread, and personal products. All of the booths have plexiglass barriers at their cash registers. Each customer has the whole booth to herself as followers wait at 6-foot intervals. Once you have paid for your purchase, you step back and the merchant puts your product in a tray a few feet away and steps back. Then you step forward and gather your purchase. 

All very safe and easy to do, such that this kind of arrangement almost feels normal. I find it hard not to reflect on how profoundly changed all of this has become, but at the same time how easy it is to adjust. One wonders if we humans are too adaptive to radical change!

Most likely while at the market you will bump into old friends, sometimes hard to recognize under the facemasks, sunglasses, and hats! Maybe large name tags are in order! It’s very easy to step into the middle of the Common to have 6-foot catch-up chats with friends. Because the space is so large and booths are spread out, it’s easier to see people, call across the Common, and step into the middle area to chat with each other (6 feet apart). It was reassuring to see numerous familiar booths and faces working in the farm stands, including Connie Gillen and Phyllis Lehrer at the Sunset Farm booth. Sadly, there are no snack bars or places to sit with a cup of coffee. There was no live music. The market plans to add online ordering and curbside pickups in the coming weeks.  More information can be found here.

Welcome tent, Amherst Farmers’ Market. Photo: Meg Gage
Vendor’s tents, Amherst Farmers’ Market. Photo: Meg Gage
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