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Downtown Farmers Market Focuses on Health, Safety as Season Nears

first farmers market of 2020 planned for Saturday

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Pre-pandemic shopping at the Downtown Eau Claire Farmers Market.
Pre-pandemic shopping at the Downtown Eau Claire Farmers Market.

Preparing for the first farmers market of the season in downtown Eau Claire’s Phoenix Park has been particularly challenging this year.

In addition to arranging all the usual details for the dozens of vendors who will arrive shortly after dawn on Saturday, May 16, Deidra Barrickman has had to contend with the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus epidemic and the state-imposed rules and regulations in place to slow the spread of the virus.

Barrickman, who manages the Eau Clare Downtown Farmers Market, has worked with public health officials and the market’s board of directors to set up procedures designed to keep shoppers and vendors safe. That’s a challenge, considering the necessity of maintaining social distancing and limiting the size of public gatherings.

“We’re going to do the best we can under the circumstances to keep everyone safe, because that is number one.” –Deidra Barrickman, Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market, on opening during a pandemic

“We’re going to do the best we can under the circumstances to keep everyone safe, because that is number one,” Barrickman said of the market, which will welcome its first customers of the year at 7:30am Saturday at the Phoenix Park pavilion. Barrickman expects 25 to 30 vendors on Saturday, about the usual number for the beginning of the season. Later in the summer, as more fresh produce comes into season, the farmers market can accommodate a maximum of about 66 vendors, she said.

Barrickman isn’t sure how many shoppers to expect, but there is reason to believe there is pent-up demand for the farmers market: a Facebook post announcing the market’s opening quickly drew more than 100 comments and over 500 likes.

The Facebook post outlined the rules that will be in place to keep that eager virtual crowd from getting too closet to each other in real life. Among other things, foot traffic will follow a one-way route, with shoppers entering the pavilion at the south end near the bathrooms and exiting at the north end near Madison Street. In addition, only 115 people will be allowed under the pavilion at any time. (Volunteers will be trying to keep count.) Shoppers are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing, and families are asked not to bring children and strollers into the pavilion if possible.

Under the market’s new policies, vendors will be wearing masks and gloves, and their booths will be set up on the outside of the pavilion to provide more space. In addition, empty tables will provide a buffer between the vendors’ tables and members of the public. Customers are asked to point to the products they want, which vendors will then bag and place on the table. Samples will not be allowed, and ready-to-eat foods from food trucks and other vendors will be sold in closed containers.

Barrickman said she’s worked closely with the state and local health departments as well as UW Extension to formulate the rules. In addition, an inspector from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department will be on hand to observe the market.

“Overall, I’m feeling pretty darn good about it,” she said. “I certainly know this is not a perfect science. We’re going to see how things go the first week, and we’re going to make some adjustments after that.”

While all kinds of farm-fresh foods will be available at the market, there’s one thing organizers hope is in short supply: socializing. Under normal circumstances, mingling with friends and neighbors and watching the crowd mill around is one of the market’s biggest attractions. However, this spring Barrickman wants shoppers to respect social distancing guidelines and keep the lines moving.

“We certainly realize that is a reason people come,” she said of socializing. “But we want to make sure that everyone who wants to purchase can get in and out.”


Learn more about the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market on its website or Facebook page.