The Market of Unity held their first open day of the year Saturday, joining other local markets around Maine as they reopen for the summer despite the pandemic. 

The Market of Unity is run in conjunction with the town office and the Unity Business Exchange. This is the fourth year the market will be held, and it will be open every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. with a variety of local vendors.  

Najean Shedyak is one of the organizers for the market and said there is a variety of products available, ranging from local produce to pottery. They have had baskets, food, dog treats and more. 

If you make it, bake it or grow it you can sell it here,” Shedyak said. “It is a collaborative of farmers and craftsmen and local goods.” 

There is not currently an official schedule for which vendors will be present on a given Saturday, but Shedyak said they are planning to have a calendar come out soon to highlight what is planned from week to week. They are hoping to have do-it-yourself workshops, musicians and even the local ambulance stop by.  

Last year, although the market was technically open, many vendors chose not to come. So this year they are excited to revitalize. The tents used by vendors mean they are already fairly spaced out, and it helps that it was already held outdoors.  

“We are working really hard to get it back up to capacity and do better with recovering with the pandemic,” Shedyak said. 

As the summer months approach, other central Maine markets are opening as well.  

Laurel Huntsberger, 16, sits with her father Jamie Huntsberger by their farm fresh eggs and spinach Saturday in front of the Unity Town Office on School Street at the Unity market. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The Skowhegan Farmers’ Market moved to its summer location at the start of April, earlier than it normally does, because of the pandemic. 

It will be open at 42 Court St., Skowhegan every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. 

They have kept many policies in place from last year, according to Evan Orloff, manager of the Skowhegan Farmers’ Market and bread baker at the Miller’s Table.

That includes spacing out stalls, having hand sanitizer at checkout and wearing masks.  

Last year, the market did not allow guest vendors or musicians like it normally has, but both of those will return this summer.  

One change not making a comeback this year is the preorder system the market implemented at the height of the pandemic.   

The preorder system was very popular at the time, but just took too many man hours to keep up with, said Amy Rowbottom, owner of Crooked Face Creamery and manager of the Skowhegan market last year. Nonetheless, it was a meaningful experience for her and other volunteers.

Linda Babcock sets up her crafts table in front of the Unity Town Office on School Street at the Market of Unity on Saturday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

It was really rewarding — we had traffic backed up, we maxed out of orders within 24 hours,” Rowbottom said. “There was a huge need, and it felt really good to come together and offer that for our community. It meant a lot to us that we could be that.” 

While people are still hesitant about large outings, many seem excited to return to the community of a local farmers market, including organizers. Orloff moved to the area less than a year ago and got just a taste of the market at the tail end of the outdoor season in the fall.  

“I’m really eager for the weather, and I get to bake more bread, which is what I want to do, and see more people outside to socialize and talk about what we’re doing and all the exciting things going on in Skowhegan,” Orloff said.  

Soon to come as well is the Downtown Waterville Farmers’ Market. Their first day will be May 6, and the market will be open every Thursday onwards from 2-6 p.m. at the Head of Falls by the Two Cent Bridge in Waterville.  

Debra Vermette, chairperson of the Waterville market, said that they adopted guidelines last year, so this year they will just continue them. That includes spacing vendors slightly farther apart, requiring masks and working to ensure that shoppers can wait in line and walk around while maintaining social distancing.  

Similarly, this year they will continue to reserve the first hour it is open for senior citizens and immunocompromised people. 

Last year, Vermette said, there was actually an increase in shoppers at the market as people became concerned about meat shortages and other foods not being available at the grocery store. She also saw an increase in seedling sales last spring as people got more interested in planting their own gardens. 

“Sales were good last year as people tried to shop locally. We hope that continues this year as well — that folks are concerned about what they are eating and what goes into their meat,” Vermette said. 

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