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SALEM — The Salem Farmers Market will be a much different experience for customers this year as municipalities continue to abide by COVID-19 restrictions.
The farmers market will open for its twelfth season on Thursday, but customers won’t be shopping for fruits, vegetables and produce at its traditional location at Old Town Hall.
Instead, the market will operate in the Bentley Academy Charter School parking lot, located at 25 Memorial Drive. The new location, which allows for more social distancing, was approved by the School Committee two weeks ago, according to Gus Sousa, Salem Farmers Market manager.
“We usually have between 1,500 to 2,500 people come to the market a week,” said Sousa. “It’s something that needs to be done. We have to abide by the health and safety rules put in front of us so we made a change. I think the space is going to work out for everyone. We’re going to have plenty of room.”
About 100 customers will be allowed into the 24,000 square-foot parking lot to shop at a time. The move to Bentley allows for more parking, which gives customers the option of remaining in their cars if the market is at capacity when they arrive, according to information from Salem Main Streets, which coordinates the city’s farmers market.
Due to a restriction on what can be sold at the market, there will be about a third fewer vendors than past years, Sousa said. To start, farms, bakeries, and seafood and prepared food vendors are allowed, but vendors are prohibited from selling crafts, soap, liquor and other nonfood items.
Allowing those restricted vendors will be assessed by the city’s Board of Health at the end of the month, according to Salem Main Streets.
All customers and vendors are required to wear face masks and as of Monday, customers will be allowed to shop with reusable bags, as long as the bags are not handled by anyone else, including vendors. People will be allowed to purchase items with their food stamps, or SNAP benefits, Sousa said.
Dogs and food sampling are not allowed, single-person shopping is encouraged and there will be no live music, community nonprofits or sponsor tents for the first few weeks to discourage people from gathering.
As the Salem Farmers Market is a popular social event, creating an atmosphere that discourages gathering and socializing is much different from its traditional operation, Sousa said.
“The Salem Farmers’ Market has truly become a destination and
gathering place for the community for over a decade now,” Salem Main
Streets Executive Director Kylie Sullivan said in a statement. “It feels counterintuitive to adopt a model that specifically discourages lingering, but we believe that the market plays an important role in our community, not only as a valuable point of food access, but also to provide a sense of normalcy and togetherness as we continue to rebuild.
“I am incredibly grateful for our market manager Gus Sousa, the market committee, and our City of Salem partners, who are all working so hard to make sure the market can continue this season in a way that will be safest for our vendors, customers and volunteers.”
For five months every year, the largely volunteer-run market gives residents and tourists an opportunity to buy farm-fresh produce, seafood, baked goods, meat and a variety of other goods.
At the heart of the market are seven major farms: Clark Farm, Gibney Gardens, Maitland Mountain Farm, Grant Family Farm, Heavens Harvest Farm, Long Hill Orchard, and Wally’s Vegetables.
Sousa said he’s been working closely with the city, including the mayor’s office, throughout the planning process and he’s come away with the sense that everyone wants to see the market succeed this year.
“It’s going to be one of the first things that happens in Phase 2,” said Sousa. “This is really going to be the first public event the city has held since the lockdown, so i’m anticipating more than our usual number of people.”
The Salem Farmers Market will run every Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. through Oct. 15.