The Farmer’s Market in South Pasadena is considered an essential service, so it has kept its metaphorical doors open. After the initial shock of the COVID-19 crisis the market was closed for 2 weeks until opening again in late March, much to both the rejoice and apprehension of those in town.
Though some may have felt overwrought by the potential risks associated with large concentrations of people, Caroll Egon, who serves as the market manager in South Pasadena, insists that the weekly open-air outlet is a safer alternative to grocery stores — or any indoor market for that matter. “Its much safer here,” explains Egon, “Being outdoors, it’s safer than a grocery store where everyone is picking up produce and setting it down again; there’s no one there monitoring people picking up things like tomatoes and apples.”
A Thursdays-only epicenter for farm-fresh produce and boutique meals, the market on Meridian has considerably scaled down its operation. You’ll still find dietary staples like fruits, vegetables, and dairy, but vendors that prepared food — like Robin’s or Mama Musubi — are not to be found in the meantime. Other perks that were a part of the market, like the sampling of product, are ostensibly temporarily obsolete as well.
Being under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Public Health has also meant that the market adheres to strict guidelines that keep customers safe. According to Chamber of Commerce CEO Laurie Wheeler in an open letter to the community, the regulations administered are observed to the nth degree. “We are trying to maintain physical distancing, putting people (in a position) so they can’t touch the products,” adds Egon. “When people (vendors) have two or more tents we try to have an in and an out — an exit and entry.”
Other practical solutions have included drawing line queues in chalk, and keeping monitors at each entrance of the market to ensure that all customers are wearing proper protective gear, sticking to the “no mask, no service” policy that dominates all businesses.
And while the market strives to comply with social distancing protocol, the capacity for vendors is limited, with spacing between booths averaging between 7-8 ft. “There isn’t room for new vendors despite the look of vacancy,” Egon explains as that space between vendors is considered necessary, also noting that even if someone were to wish to apply for a new permit, the Health Department has ceased issuing any for the time being.
Past vendors who currently want to come back “are about 85-95%” says Carroll. But due to the unfortunate circumstances, there are a few vendors that don’t have any staff left so they can’t return.
Despite of all these restrictions in place, Egon actually finds that the atmosphere is a bit easier to manage, “It’s just people coming to shop and then they leave, they don’t really stick around.”
Currently there is little to no data that has been provided linking farmers markets to COVID-19 related contaminations — Los Angeles County Public Health has released information including lists of restaurants and grocery stores that have confirmed cases or outbreaks — however no such list is available for outdoor markets.
Nonetheless all farmers’ markets in the county have similar, if not more uncompromising standards that they must uphold while being under the scrutiny of officials from both the Health and Agriculture Departments — each of whom have made several visits to the market in the span of the past 2 months, a much more frequent rate than usual (once or twice per year is standard) according to Egon.
Transitioning into Stage 2 has meant that more and more people have been eager to go out again, the Farmers’ Market being no exception. A spike in patronage has occurred as each week sees more customers, brining more foot traffic and concerns. However, Caroll says the feedback has been very positive stating that, “Most people are really glad we’re here. We’ve got some people that think we shouldn’t be here but we tell them that you don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”