For weeks, farmers markets in Seattle have been closed due to COVID-19 measures, even though the state deems them essential businesses. The reason was a city mandate that lumped them in with permitted events — but now that loophole seems to be loosening up. This weekend, both the Ballard and U District markets will return, with a much different look to comply with social distancing guidelines. The latter has even included a “Farmers Market Shopper Oath,” which includes a list of 14 requirements for those heading over.
The Ballard market plans on being mostly drive-through this Sunday when it reopens. Shoppers can preorder goods from a variety of vendors, and pick them up without leaving their cars. Walk-up customers won’t be turned away, but there will be a number of strict safety measures put in place, including no sampling, no ready-to-eat food, and no reusable containers. There will be increased distancing between booths, as well as markers on the pavements for shoppers. Vendors must also be the only ones touching products, and contactless payment methods (including Venmo) will be implemented.
The U District Market plans to put in place similar measures this Saturday, with modified layouts to ensure 10 feet of distance between vendor booths, limited market entrances, hand sanitizers and hand washing stations readily available in the markets, and a ban on music, entertainment, cooking demos, and public seating areas. It also posted the aforementioned oath, which lists instructions for shoppers, such as preordering and prepaying if possible, designating one shopper per household, and leaving pets at home. Many of those same instructions apply for Ballard as well.
These are two out of the four markets in the city currently in season (Capitol Hill and West Seattle are the other two). And the discussions to reopen them — contentious at times — have been going on for weeks between farmers market leaders, local officials, and the King County public health department. The two markets were selected for the one-time permit after assuring officials of their ability to implement social distancing guidelines and have full vendor compliance. It’s worth noting that the U District farmers market has the highest SNAP/EBT usage of any year-round farmers market in Seattle.
If all goes well this weekend with the measures put in place, the Ballard and U District locations could provide a framework for the other Seattle markets to come back in due time, considering many won’t be in season until later this spring. City officials will be monitoring compliance to determine the possibility for extended openings for Ballard, U District, and others going forward.
“One major issue is that we need the public to understand this is not business as usual,” Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets executive director Jennifer Antos tells Eater Seattle. “Markets are typically great social spaces, but they can’t be right now. We have to all do our part to slow the spread of the virus, which means pre-ordering from your farmer, doing your shopping quickly, and practicing 6 feet of distancing at all times.”