The Sioux City Farmers Market opened for the season Wednesday, drawing a couple hundred people who quickly shopped for fruits and vegetables, then left. The farmers market opened despite a growing number of COVID-19 cases in northwest Iowa’s Woodbury County.
Because of COVID-19, the market is acting more like a transactional marketplace rather than a social hub. Market Manager Becky Barnes estimated around 300 people came on the first day. She said opening day went “really well.”
“A lot of people came in, got what they needed and headed out,” Barnes said.
The market opened with 10 vendors, which is fewer than a normal year. Barnes said she expects six more vendors on Saturday.
Staff have been promoting the farmers market as a place where people can quickly stop in, shop and leave.
“And I saw a lot of that today,” Barnes said. “I didn’t see any patrons staying for the amount of the time they have in the past. I think it went over pretty well. The atmosphere, it’s a little different, we don’t have our music like we used to and we don’t have our seats like we used to.”
Vendors are spaced 14 feet apart. Following Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ order, there isn’t any music, games or seating. Six hand sanitizer stations sit throughout the market.
“That bar was raised from years past,” Barnes said. “Seeing everyone come in and using those hand sanitizer stations, that was reassuring to me that the community also wants to stay safe while they’re down there.”
Barnes said most shoppers wore masks. The market highly recommends this, but it’s not required. She said they’ll have a vendor in the near future that sells masks. Vendors wear gloves and masks.
As of Wednesday, Woodbury County has 1,339 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Data tracked by The New York Times has ranked the larger Sioux City metropolitan area, which includes parts of northeastern Nebraska and southeastern South Dakota, as the No. 1 hotspot for COVID-19 in the country. There are more than 2,300 cases in the region.
In an interview last week, Roger Caudron, the secretary and treasurer for the nonprofit board that oversees the farmers market, said the board believes food grown by local producers and vendors will be safer than getting food from a grocery store.
“When you figure how many have touched a product grown locally versus a product in a grocery store, we believe this is actually ultimately going to be a safer form of getting food products into the hands of the patron than a typical grocery store might be,” Caudron said last week.
Gov. Reynolds signed a proclamation on April 24 allowing farmers markets to open, but with numerous requirements and precautions in place. They include allowing only food and farm vendors, having social distancing and public health precautions in place, but no entertainment, activities or seating.