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Farmers markets proceed with much caution – but little socializing

At the East Aurora Farmer's Market, a walking lane now loops through rather than crisscrosses the market to promote social distancing.

Vendors wear masks and follow sanitation procedures and are spaced 10 feet apart. A hand-washing station sits in the middle of the market.

Farmers markets are open during the coronavirus pandemic, classified as essential by New York State. But the threat of spreading Covid-19 is altering how people sell and shop for produce, cut flowers, maple syrup, cheeses, meats and baked goods. It's also posing logistical challenges for operators, though the public seems understanding.

"Everyone who comes has been accommodating," said Jamie Dinero, the East Aurora market's secretary. "The general public has been in the habit of spacing out from one another, and people are naturally staying back from the next person in line."

How to protect the public and vendors is something the Elmwood Village Farmers Market is preparing for when it opens June 6.

If anyone plans to socialize, it won't happen this year, said Therese Deutschlander, president of the Elmwood Village Association.

"It's a huge gathering place, and that's part of its charm," Deutschlander said. "We will get back to that, but now is not the time."

This year, all of the vendors will be on one side of Bidwell Parkway instead of on both sides. Stanchions will be used to keep people apart, and more volunteers than usual will be on hand to help keep the line moving while practicing social distancing.

Dogs are out this year, although Deutschlander conceded that may become too hard to enforce.

Organizers of the North Tonawanda Farmer's Market are also getting ready for the new social reality, and they're considering relocating to a larger space to allow for social distancing, but the clock is ticking. Although the market is open, business is expected to pick up significantly in the first week of June.

"We will soon have to make some major adjustments," said Dale Rogers, a town clerk who oversees the market.

Strawberries, he said, will ripen in a few weeks, which will draw more customers to the market.

"Keeping people 6 feet apart will be the big problem," he said.

Rogers said only a small number of people haven't wanted to conform to the rules.

"We've had a couple boneheads who tried to push the button and fight the system," Rogers said. "One wouldn't wear a mask and finally left."

Rogers expressed frustration that New York State Agriculture and Markets establishes the safety rules but doesn't provide penalties if someone doesn't abide by them.

The Market at Graycliff, in Derby, launched a preorder/pickup and drive-thru version of the market last week, but the regular market will only return this summer if the Frank Lloyd Wright attraction is able to reopen, said Anna Kaplan, Graycliff's executive director.

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