BOISE — Farmers markets have been deemed essential by the state government and many Treasure Valley markets are open or expecting to open soon with social distancing measures in place.
In Boise, the organizers of the Capital City Farmers Market, which typically draws thousands of visitors to downtown Boise, are holding a smaller 34th Street Market in Garden City, which started Saturday.
The Boise Farmers Market has adopted a drive-thru style market, in which people order their produce online during the week and pick it up on Saturdays.
The Nampa and Eagle farmers markets are up and running, with social distancing encouraged and other precautions in place, and the Caldwell Farm-to-Fork Farmers Market is set to open Tuesday.
In Meridian, the Main Street Market, which normally would have opened in April, is awaiting city council approval to get started.
“It has been hard for local businesses and local vendors,” Meridian Main Street Market organizer CheRee Eveland said. “We can’t gather; so you can’t have events and it is hard on lots of vendors. So, the sooner we can get the market approved, the better it will be for them.”
Eveland said the proposal for the market’s reopening limits customers to 50 at a time. She said customers can schedule times to attend to ensure they can get in, though people who have not scheduled a time can drop in if there are fewer than 50 people.
“There will be one exit and one entrance, hand-washing, no strollers, no dogs and no music yet,” she said.
People are being encouraged to come to the market just to shop, not to socialize, she added. There are no options to sit down and eat.
“We want to keep everyone safe, and the sooner you can get out, the sooner someone can come in,” Eveland said.
She said the soonest she expects the market to be open is Saturday, May 23.
With many farmers markets changing their structure, reducing the number of visitors allowed in at a time and opening later than usual, local farmers said they have seen more interest in their community-supported agriculture programs.
Community supported-agriculture, or CSA, programs connect farmers directly to customers, who pay upfront early in the year for a subscription of produce from the farm. A subscription usually provides an assortment of seasonal produce throughout the year.
Idaho Office of Refugees Director Tara Wolfson said Global Gardens, the office’s refugee farming and gardening program in Boise, has seen a spike in subscriptions to its CSA program.
Global Gardens includes 11 farms, 200 community gardens and 2,000 refugee farmers and gardeners.
In previous years, Global Gardens sold produce at the Capital City Farmers Market, to restaurants and through its CSA.
“With our wholesale, selling to restaurants, we are making the assumption that those sales will be down,” Wolfson said. “So we have made a strong push for our CSA due to that.”
Steve Spiteri, a farmer with Ohana No-Till Farm in Meridian, said the farm is still open for CSA applicants this year and is finding more people interested in learning about local farming.
“Access to local food has changed dramatically,” he said. “I think the demand at the grocery stores and having the supermarkets run out of stuff was a wake-up call. I think people are realizing we need to have other options.”
He said now more than ever people are reaching out, interested in Ohana No-Till Farm and in what it can offer.
“I don’t know if it is the fear, I don’t know the motivation, but there are more people interested in where their food comes from,” Spiteri said.
Tanya Quigley, a market gardener with Homesteader Farms in Wilder, said they have seen an increase in produce sales at the farmers markets. She said they sell at the Nampa Farmers Market and the Homedale Farmers markets.
She also said they saw an increase in their vegetable plant sales this year.
Homesteader Farms is still accepting applications for its two CSA programs.
Spiteri said because Ohana No-Till Farm is considered an essential business, he has been able to continue operating with the staff he has.
“Last year a part of what we were doing (was) providing local restaurants with produce, and that has changed, but we have been able to replace that with the Boise Farmers Market and our CSA,” he said. “Our sales are keeping up with last year even though restaurants are closed.”
For information on CSAs throughout the state, visit bit.ly/idahoCSA.