Worcester County farmers markets have opened for the season with a different look and new guidelines about how markets can operate amid the impact of COVID-19.
The state’s farmers markets, farm stands and CSAs are working with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and local boards of health in individual cities and towns, following protocols and guidelines to keep everyone healthy and safe, while still providing a vital service.
Some of the current practices at farmers markets: Vendors and visitors wear masks and markets maintain social distancing and capacity limits. Borders around market sites limit public entrances and exits; vendors minimize the handling and distribution of produce and products, keeping items out of reach of customers. No product samples, either. At booths, one designated person handles money (or cards) and another distributes produce/products to customers, who either point or say what they want on the vendor’s table. Markets definitely have more signage and chalkboards with product lists and sanitizing stations.
The official local farmers market season is off to a good start despite restrictions, according to market managers we interviewed. Customers are supportive of guidelines, they said. The question asked most is why market customers can’t handle produce, while grocery store customers can. Market managers explain that sites implement state agricultural and local health guidelines.
There was a line (social distancing) on June 7 to the kickoff of the Sturbridge Farmers Market on the Sturbridge Town Common. The market operates from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 11.
Market manager Caitlin Salvadore said more people than expected showed up in the first 15 minutes of the market, and she anticipated more customers by late morning. She was “thrilled” to have 16 vendors on opening day and was certain many vendors would sell out before closing time.
Salvadore credits not only vendors, but also six “wonderful” market volunteers for a successful opening day. The volunteers help with set-up, she said, and track the number of visitors and social distancing. “We’re in full swing, despite operational changes,” said Salvadore.
With an eye on safety due to the coronavirus, customers can pre-order from a list of preferred customers on the Sturbridge Farmers Market website, www.sturbridgefarmersmarket.com, and pick up at the Sunday market. The list of vendors includes Crust Bakeshop in Worcester; Sturbridge Coffee Roasters; Brimfield Winery & Cidery; Ragged Hill Cider Company in West Brookfield; Hunt Road Berry Farm in West Brookfield; Free Living Farm in Brookfield; Window Box Farm in Tolland, Connecticut; River Rock Farm in Brimfield; Walnut Lane Farm in Dudley; BOTL Farm in Ashford, Connecticut; The Center Bakery, Elzire’s Acre Goat Milk Soap in Princeton; Brimfield Botanicals; and Hop Hollow Beer Soap.
Opening day (June 2) for Holden Farmers Market went really well, according to Leslie Kelly, market manager and owner of Sundance Farm in Rochdale.
“We are grateful for all the support,” said Kelly. “We really didn’t know what to expect, especially on the first day, but the turnout was great with a mix of regulars and new customers.”
The Holden Farmers Market is held from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Damon House Lot, at the corner of routes 31 and 122A, Holden. There were seven vendors on opening day and five or six more are expected in coming weeks, according to Kelly.
Last week, the market featured early produce such as lettuces, arugula and peas, dairy products and flowers and plants.
“We are all adapting during COVID-19,” said Kelly, who has a protective shield at her booth to allow for safe spacing. “We may have a different look, but customers know our food is fresh and locally grown. We look forward to another great season.”
Hancock Dairy Farm in Barre was among participants that sold out of product, with ice cream being a crowd favorite last week at the Holden market.
Owners Rickey and Sandy Evangelista, who operate the dairy farm with their daughter Beth Wilson, also were at the Barre Farmers Market on the Barre Common Saturday (June 6), with Rickey assisting customers at their booth, while Sandy handed product from the farm truck parked nearby.
The couple have operated the dairy farm for 18 years and sell most of the farm’s raw milk to Puleo’s Dairy in Salem, where it is vat pasteurized and made into whole, skim and chocolate milk, in addition to light and heavy cream and ice cream. Products are brought back to the farm and sold on home delivery routes and at farmers markets, said Sandy Evangelista. The couple also turns remaining milk into a fresh farmers’ cheese available for home delivery and sold at farmers markets, she said. They also donate to food banks and help people in need.
“We’re following all the new market guidelines,” said Sandy Evangelista, who joked about sometimes displaying empty milk bottles filled with sugar at their booth. “You can’t have the real thing and the table looked pretty empty,” she said, “so we improvised a little.”
Hancock Dairy’s home deliveries have picked up since the beginning of pandemic, according to Evangelista. The increased business is good, she said, “because you can’t shut dairy cows off from producing milk.” The couple is hopeful that new customers will continue with them in coming months.
Visit https://hancockdiary.com for more information about products, home delivery and online ordering. FYI: Rickey Evangelista was once in the restaurant business. He is related to several Worcester “Evangelista restaurateurs,” he said.
Barre Farmers Market has operated for three weeks, with Ward Holloway as market manager. The market is held from 9 a.m. to noon on the Barre Common.
“We sometimes will have as many as 11 vendors on site,” said Holloway. Customers will find everything from plants and veggies to bath and body products, he said, adding that the community is very supportive and business at the market is better than expected.
Holloway, who grew up on a dairy farm in New Braintree, sells assorted veggies and plants he grows at his Holloway Farm in Barre.
Business was brisk for Lynn Hartman of Hartman of Hartman’s Herb Farm in Barre, who not only is a noted herbalist, but also a businesswoman who runs the family’s bed and breakfast and wedding venue with her daughter, Carissa Hartman-Wozniak.
Hartman said despite weddings at her farm being postponed amid the pandemic, the take-out dinner business remains brisk, and she continues to sell herbs and plants at local farmers markets and at the farm. “People really are enjoying gardening and the outdoors,” she said. “Gardening is a way to relax and stay calm.”
Hartman said she especially missed being part of the annual June plant sale held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston. “I love that event,” she said. “Who doesn’t?”
No word yet on the opening of the Canal District Farmers Market in Worcester. Check social medial postings about farmers markets, or visit https://www.massfarmersmarkets.org; www.mass.gov or https://www.centralmassgrown.org.
Tougas Family Farm in Northboro has an online Farm Store that offers fresh strawberries, shortcakes, cider, strawberry donuts, etc. Follow the farm on Facebook for more info and updates on PYO strawberries.
June is the season for fresh local berries.
Father's Day takeout special at Hartman's
Smoked Barbecue is the Father’s Day take-out special offered by Hartman’s Herb Farm in Barre.
Pre-order only at www.hartmansherbfarm.com/takeout, or call (978) 355-2015. All preorders must be received by 2 p.m. June 18. Pickup is from noon to 3 p.m. June 21.
Pulled pork poutine, brisket, ribs, chicken and sides such as Mexican street salad, homemade mac & cheese and honey cornbread are on the menu. Desserts include Chocolate Mousse Cake, Strawberry Shortcake and Blueberry Cobbler.
Combos can be ordered!
Crown Bakery closed
A sign on the door at Crown Bakery & Café, 133 Gold Star Blvd., Worcester, notified customers that the business is permanently closed.
Calls to the business “could not be completed.” Owners Jen LaPointe and her husband, Edward LaPointe, have leased the property since 2017. The couple closed their second Crown Bakery location on Grafton Street in Worcester last year.
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