Shoppers use social distancing Saturday during the outdoor Skowhegan Farmers Market. Ten vendors took part in Saturday’s market. Preorder drive-thru orders were also packaged and picked up during the market. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

As grocery store supplies diminish and more and more people prepare to practice social distancing amid the spread of coronavirus, local farmers have been working diligently to provide fresh products in safe ways.

On Saturday, the summer market in Skowhegan was held at 42 Court St., where locals were encouraged to come out and shop while practicing safety measures that are recommended by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Youney of Showhegan attends Saturday’s outdoor Skowhegan Farmers Market. Young said he has shopped at the Skowhegan market for many years, and that he buys two thirds of his groceries there. Ten vendors took part in Saturday’s market. Preorder drive-thru orders were also packaged and picked up during the event. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

John Youney, of Skowhegan, said that he’s been shopping at the market for 25 years. To him, knowing where his food is coming from and how it’s handled is why he buys almost all of his food locally.

“Skowhegan is a food hub, ” Youney said. “You’ve got the grainery producing oats, wheat and flowers and (Crooked Face Creamery) in the same building.”

Though many have turned to shopping locally in recent weeks, Youney said this is a practice that should be done year-round.

“I shop local particularly for my food because I know my vendors and they know me. I know how they’ve handled the food, and I know how it’s grown. That is all very important to me and it always has been.”

Youney said that when he first attended the market 25 years ago, there were four vendors. On Saturday, there were 10.

Amy Rowbottom, owner of Crooked Face Creamery, also helps organize the farmers market. She said that for her business, she is trying to shift mostly to preorders. Saturday’s market was the first day of using a preliminary preorder system, which Rowbottom said went smoothly.

Wearing protective masks to guard against coronavirus spread, volunteer Joelle Wightman, with Crooked Face Creamery, left, reviews paperwork with shoppers Alan Sanborn, center, and his wife, Sam, of Canaan as they picked up their order Saturday at the Skowhegan Farmers Market. Ten vendors took part in Saturday’s market. Preorder drive-thru orders were also packaged and picked up during the market. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Additionally, she closed her storefront to foot traffic; instead, customers can walk up to the doorway, order their goods, and maintain a safe distance.

“I am shifting more to preordering,” Rowbottom said. “I have created price lists and online orders. We’re all trying to move in that direction.”

Rowbottom said that Saturday’s market brought out more customers than any previous April.

“Today was a successful day in terms of getting local food in people’s hands in the safest way that we can,” Rowbottom said. “Everyone has been incredible in terms of wearing face masks, using hand sanitizer, wearing gloves and staying six feet apart.”

“Our turnouts are higher this April than any other year,” Rowbottom said. “With food shortages at the grocery store, we’re getting lots of new faces and we’ve had a steady amount of traffic or more so than I ever remember.”

As of March 26, the Maine Department of Agriculture Conservation & Forestry released updated guidelines for farmers markets. The recommendations include spacing out vendors, planning the layout accordingly to avoid bottlenecks, encouraging quick transactions, producing signage, establishing preorders if possible and not allowing onsite consumption.

Youney said that every vendor had their products individually packaged and weighed out. One vendor provided posts to stand near while waiting to approach the stand, he said.

To pay, each customer carries around a sheet with them to tally up their totals at each vendor. When the shopping is done, there is a booth designated at the edge of the market that is now clad with a plexiglass wall where customers can pay for their goods.

“I wore gloves and I kept my distance,” Youney said. “People in the market were very respective of your distance and we said hello to each other. That’s what it’s all about.”

The market will be held weekly from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Maine Grains parking lot. It is encouraged that customers only send one member of a household to shop, preordering if possible, refraining from touching anything and keeping a safe distance.

“We just want to be the best we can and continue to offer our community local food,” Rowbottom said. “It’s more important now than ever. We want to be a good example of how to continue to offer local food in a safe way for our community.”


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