Farmer’s market adjusts during COVID-19

Patrons can shop their favorite vendors in the Conaway Lot on Railroad Avenue (Jill Courtney / McDaniel Free Press).

Now more than ever it’s important to shop within your community, and to do it safely. One way to shop locally for produce and specialty products is at the Downtown Westminster Farmers’ Market on Railroad Ave.

The Market put forward new guidelines in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to keep its patrons safe. As featured on the Market’s website, some of these guidelines include: an 8 – 8:30 a.m. block reserved for people over 60 years of age and at-risk individuals, establishing a market flow pattern, mandatory face coverings, a 50 customer limit within the shopping area, and asking that no products be handled before purchasing – allowing the vendor to bag the product and hand it to the customer, minimizing contact. 

A McDaniel student who shopped at the market last Saturday says he felt comfortable with the new precautions in place. “Everyone I encountered was wearing a mask and properly socially distancing. It was easy to keep my distance from other customers.”

However, 2020 McDaniel alumnae Rachael Fox, an employee of vendor Jeannie Bird Baking Company, expressed her concerns about the risks involved at the market each week saying, “When the farmer’s market first opened for the season there were strict regulations on masks and guests were not allowed to bring their own bag. Now, masks are not required but encouraged and people can bring their own bags.”

Fox had some recommendations for bettering the safety protocols suggesting, “As someone who graduated with an environmental degree it makes me sad to say, but right now I think the market should still enforce the no personal bag rule. Jeannie Bird and many of the other shops have paper bag options that are eco-friendly and are able to be re-used.” She continued, “additionally, there could be a hand washing station or hand sanitizer available for every shop, arrows on the ground to guide guests, and one flow lane of ‘traffic’ to make sure that everyone who visits and works at the market is as safe as possible.” 

Even during the pandemic, vendors continue to attend the market in hopes that people in the area will support them and give them business they desperately need during this time. Colleen Histon of Shepard Manor’s Creamery shared that they began selling at the market eight years ago and have had a successful year selling in Westminster following the pandemic because of their unique product. “We are the only producer of Sheep’s Milk cheese in the State of Maryland and one of a very few ‘farmstead’ cheese-making operations, meaning we produce the milk from our sheep and produce all the cheese and soap at our farm.”

However, despite the success with sales, Colleen said they have still faced challenges because of the pandemic. “The market overall sales are better because more folks are buying but we are at risk every time we attend to sell when the general public is involved. There has been no down time for our farm and our exposure risk is tremendous.” 

Owners of The Caramel Kettle Gourmet Popcorn, Tom and Mill Dixon, are from Taneytown and have been selling their specialty popcorn at the Westminster market for four years. “Our favorite part of the Market is seeing the customers each week. We know they are there to support small and local businesses. Especially now, we appreciate their support so much.” The Dixons’ “mom and pop” shop has been closed since March and since then the market has been their only event. “The pandemic has made everyone in the community aware of how important small businesses are. The support here at the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market has been a lifeline to our business.” 

If you are interested in supporting local businesses and looking for fresh produce, baked goods and other unique products, the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market has you covered every Saturday 8 a.m. – noon at 27 Railroad Ave. until Nov. 21!