For its 45th season, Evanston Farmers’ Market adjusts to pandemic

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(Zoe Malin/Daily Senior Staffer)

The Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market is enforcing new safety measures as it prepares to operate during the pandemic. Masks are required for vendors and customers, for example.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

When the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market opens for its 45th season on Saturday, customers won’t be able to gather around booths or handpick fresh produce.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted market manager Myra Gorman to enforce new safety measures this year. The city’s Department of Health and Human Services also created guidelines for operating the market during the pandemic.

“My top priority is for the health and safety of our citizens, farmers and community,” Gorman said. “My goal is to make sure everyone feels comfortable.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared farmers’ markets an essential business in his original stay-at-home order. While some Chicagoland markets have been postponed, Gorman has worked around the clock to open Evanston’s on time. She said farmers’ markets are safer than crowded indoor grocery stores because they operate in open air, and fewer people touch the farm-grown food.

Gorman adjusted the market’s layout to make it more conductive to social distancing. Usually, vendors line up in six rows, but this year, vendors are arranged in a large square with one entrance. A market staffer will also monitor the flow of people at the market’s entrance.

Because of a city-wide executive order, all customers and vendors are required to wear masks at the farmers’ market. Gorman is providing masks to all vendors and market staff so they don’t have to worry about securing their own.

Gorman purchased fabric and put together mask sewing kits with necessary supplies. She partnered with Amalia Malos, owner of Evanston Stitchworks, who recruited volunteers to sew about 250 masks for the market.

The market is also implementing new sale procedures to limit contact for the safety of both customers and vendors. Customers will verbally communicate what they want to purchase and vendors will place items in plastic bags.

A designated transaction person in each tent will be in charge of payment, which Gorman said customers should place on the table. Contactless payment such as Venmo and Apple Pay will also be accepted.

No hot food will be prepared at the market, and customers will not be allowed to sample the products. No one is permitted to eat at the market, and customers must keep six feet between one another as they walk through the market in a counter-clockwise direction.

All vendors will have handwashing stations in their tents and are required to clean their tables every two hours. Events such as children’s activities, cooking demonstrations and music will not occur.

Brett Bowman, owner of B’s Gourmet Nuts, is optimistic about his first season as a vendor, despite the changes. The Winnetka-based company is selling its small batch cashews at the market and donates a portion of its net proceeds to the Cancer Wellness Center in Chicagoland.

“This is our passion project,” Bowman said. “We’ve had a lot of fun and love meeting new people along the way.”

Many vendors are also offering order ahead options. Gorman said a list of vendors who offer order ahead options can be found on the Evanston Markets Facebook page and on The City of Evanston’s website.

Soul & Smoke, the barbeque division of Evanston-based catering group Feast & Imbibe, is participating in the market for the first time this year. Owner Heather Bublick said the company planned to participate for months, but when the pandemic hit, things changed.

Soul & Smoke is now offering all order ahead items instead of cooking on market premises. Customers can order dishes and pay online up until 5:00 p.m. the night before the market.

“While our expectations for the market were a bit different, we’re still excited,” Bublick said. “I’m hopeful that people will still come out.”

While shopping, Gorman said customers should keep in mind how crucial sales at this year’s market are for vendors. Gorman said the pandemic has threatened businesses across the board and emphasized how important it is to support them.

“Many of our vendors have been feeding the community for 45 years,” Gorman said. “This is a very difficult time, and we need to show up for them.”

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