This season, the Wellfleet Farmers Market is going to be one of those places where life’s new rules seem weirdest.
The place to go to get your hands-on local produce has gone “touchless.” Additional rules to safeguard shoppers and vendors: wear your mask and gloves, don’t bring your own bag, and don’t come hungry because there will be no eating at the market. Also, come by yourself.
That last rule has to do with making sure the market never gets too crowded. “Our exact capacity will depend on the weekly market configuration and how many vendors we have,” said market manager Alyssa Staker. In the early weeks, she expects eight vendors, with a clearly delineated path through the market and flags to mark social distance spacing.
The Wellfleet market’s first day was May 13. It continues every Wednesday in the field behind the Congregational Church on Main Street from 8 a.m. to noon.
Staker and organizers at all the Outer Cape’s farmers markets are working with recently issued guidance from the state depts. of health and human services, with rules to be enforced by local health agents and boards of health. They are advising organizers to limit market capacities to 10 to 15 people per 1,000 square feet.
For Wellfleet, Staker said, that’s going to mean a maximum of 30 people at a time — including vendors, volunteers, and customers. A “one in, one out” policy is intended make compliance monitoring as easy as possible for volunteers.
The markets have been deemed essential businesses, explained Francie Randolph, director of Sustainable CAPE (Center for Agricultural Preservation and Education). To help make up for the restrictions on the number of shoppers roaming them, her organization, whose Farmers’ Market Coalition brings together the three Outer Cape markets, is setting up an online system that will enable pre-ordering for pickup.
Hannah Oakland, who manages the market coalition, says the biggest concern with the system is equity.
“One of our main focuses right now is SNAP,” said Oakland. That’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly known as food stamps. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, applications to the Dept. of Transitional Assistance for SNAP have risen in Massachusetts by nearly 400 percent, she said, “but the DTA has not come up with a way for SNAP to be processed over the phone or online.”
This means that, in a time when residents with credit cards are making heavy use of curbside and delivery grocery options to minimize their exposure during the pandemic, SNAP users are required to shop in person.
“The issue is that SNAP technically works as a debit,” said Oakland, referring to the EBT cards issued to SNAP recipients. “Users have to enter a pin, and it is against federal regulations to share it electronically.” DTA officials say all of their resources are going to signing people up for assistance, and that they simply do not have the resources to figure out online processing at the moment.
“It’s so unfair,” said Oakland. A local solution is in the works, she added. “We’re trying to figure out how to give everyone the option to at least order ahead, so that paying is the only thing they have to do in person.”
Dave DeWitt of Dave’s Greens in Truro will be one of the first farmers to test the online marketplace, and he believes that, for produce vendors, planning ahead will be the biggest challenge.
“Most of us don’t have much experience with predicting inventory,” he told the Independent. “When someone makes a mistake and thinks they’ll have 15 bunches of carrots and they only bring 12, where will those other three come from? We’ll have to start out very conservatively.”
Victoria Pecoraro of Wellfleet, who sells eggs and cheese, said for her an online platform is “a no-brainer.” Because she already tries to keep people posted about her produce online, she thinks the new system will make things easier.
Across the board, vendors and organizers are saddened by the necessary restrictions, but ready to make the best of it. Local farmers are ready to offer their early summer produce, including eggs, local cheese, plant starts, greens, and mushrooms.
“This year’s market season cannot look like we want it to,” said Oakland, adding, “hopefully it’s only for one season.”
Markets in Provincetown and Truro will open on May 30 and June 8 respectively, with similar restrictions to Wellfleet’s.