In mid-March, the city closed farmers markets, along with other permitted events, aiming to improve social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Since then farmers and organizations like Neighborhood Farmers Markets (which runs seven local markets) have pushed to reopen with new safety measures. They'd been working with various governmental departments—like Public Health and the Office of Sustainability and Environment—and planning to open last weekend, but on Friday, April 10, the mayor's office didn't approve the reopening.
Now it has—with a lot of new protocols. On Saturday, April 18, the University District Farmers Market will reopen. The Ballard Farmers Market will follow on Sunday. Expect significant changes, though. "It's probably a cultural 180 for a lot of people who are familiar with farmers markets," says Jennifer Antos, executive director of NFM, which runs the U District market. "Whereas before it would've been great to stop and socialize and bring a group of friends, that is not the case going forward."
NFM and the Seattle Farmers Market Association have been working with the city to come up with a plan that's as safe as possible. Some of that is asking shoppers to follow basic coronavirus safety: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Send only one person per household. If you're sick or were exposed to coronavirus, stay home.
But markets will also function differently: U District and Ballard markets will limit the number of people allowed to shop at once and the number in line at any one booth (basically what Trader Joe's does). They'll offer handwashing stations, space booths six to 10 feet apart (there'll be less overall). They won't allow music, entertainment, cooking demos, prepared food, samples, or public seating. Vendors will hand you products (so you don't touch until you buy). Expect some chalk lines or tape to keep those distances in place. Both markets ask that you preorder to reduce transactions (here is Ballard's list of vendors; the U District is finalizing its list—check the website before you shop). At Ballard, organizers encourage drive-through pick up, but will allow people on foot too. NFM asks that shoppers sign a "Farmers Market Shopper Oath" before shopping. You can see more complete lists of the markets' protocols and requests here (U District) and here (Ballard).
For the moment, other markets are still suspended. Antos says that of NFM's seven markets, the U District opened first because it's the longest running, has devoted shoppers, and has the highest SNAP/EBT redemption of any market in the city. Both markets will still offer Fresh Bucks tokens to SNAP users, though market staff will wear gloves and vendors will separate payment and food handling. She says NFM will continue working with the city to open more markets: "We're committed to getting there, but it's not going to be overnight."
If you want to go to the market this weekend, and want to continue going to the market as all the beautiful spring produce comes in, mask up, keep your distance, wash your hands, follow instructions. In short, be cool, Seattle.
Updated on April 16 with further information about SNAP/EBT redemption.