Summer is in the air and farmers markets are following close behind, with the Faribault and Owatonna locations set to open Saturday morning. Due to the ongoing pandemic, shoppers can expect some layout changes — additional space between patrons, masks and one-way aisles being among the new safety measures.

Although the opening of the Owatonna Farmers Market in Central Park was delayed a month due to COVID-19, the Faribault location typically opens on the first Saturday of June. Organizer Donna Bauer said she’s been consulting often with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and other state agencies to keep up-to-date on any recommended changes before opening day.

“We have essential things, because we sell food,” said Bauer. “We are OK to operate — we just have to abide by social distancing.”

The Northfield Farmers Market has been open since May, although the city’s Riverwalk Market Fair isn’t planning to open until at least early July. Selling a mix of local produce, other food and art, the event’s board decided last month to wait until there may be a decreased risk to vendors and visitors according to a June 3 report from the Northfield News. The weekly fair typically draws tourists from outside of the community.

In Faribault, the market won’t likely permit craft vendors to set up until later this summer, which Bauer again said was a recommendation from the state. With crafters, there are typically between 35 and 40 vendors at the market, for now there’ll be closer to 25 selling vegetables, baked goods and other food items.

“When you have crafts and that kind of stuff, people tend to linger. That’s what we’re trying to avoid at this time,” added Bauer. “As the summer goes on, it might open up to crafters, too.”

John Meixner, who supervises the Owatonna Farmers Market, said the Steele County event will continue to allow artists selling handmade goods.

In terms of layout, both he and Bauer said one major change is that there will now be two tables in between vendors and their guests — one where the goods will be arranged like normal, and one that will be used to transition items and money as opposed to handing them over directly. This second table will also help ensure that customers are staying roughly 6 feet back from sellers and pointing at their selections.

In both cases, vendors are supplying this extra table. For those in Owatonna who don’t have a second table to bring, Meixner said they will be set back further to still try and encourage keeping that same distance. “People know what to do,” he added.

The stalls themselves will also be spaced 6 feet apart, according to Meixner, and pushed back from the walkways to allow customers room to spread out while in line. At the Faribault market, aisles will be designated for one-way traffic, like they are currently at many grocery stores.

“We’ve asked all of our vendors to have wipes and hand sanitizer at each table, and some said that they would like to wear rubber gloves — we’re not requiring them, but some will still be wearing them,” said Bauer. “We’re not requiring masks, either, but I know that some vendors are saying they’re going to wear a mask.”

Meixner said Owatonna organizers are recommending that both vendors and consumers wear masks and gloves. In Faribault, there will also be hand-washing stations as guests enter and leave the market — with a designated entrance and two exit points accompanying the one-way aisles.

Bauer helped go over the changes with vendors during an outdoor meeting in the market’s Central Park location last month, and Meixner said he’s been discussing new regulations with sellers as they sign up.

Despite the pandemic, both organizers say the number of vendors on board for the season is similar to what it has been in previous years. Bauer added that there have even been more volunteers signing up for this year’s market, which she attributes to the additional tasks now needing to be done. With a number of additional rules to follow, she said she hopes that customers will still feel welcome — and safe.

“We want them to feel comfortable coming to the market,” said Bauer. “We’re doing everything we can to make the customers feel comfortable and safe.”

In Faribault, she added that everything is still on track to have the annual Wednesday market start in July as more summer produce becomes available.

Reporter Bridget Kranz can be reached at 507-444-2376. Follow her on Twitter @OPPBridget. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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