The Morgan County-Decatur Farmers Market will open as planned April 11 but will have new precautions in place because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The market falls under the essential business category and is not impacted by State Health Officer Scott Harris' order issued Friday to close many businesses such as gyms, barber shops and movie theaters.
“They have made sure that we know that we are critical infrastructure,” said Elizabeth Thompson, manager of the market.
The market will have more space between tables than it had in previous years to maintain the 6 feet of space between customers that the Centers for Disease Control recommends.
It will take online orders and plans to put a timed entry in place to limit the amount of people that are under the pavilion at one time. The details on the timed entry are still being developed.
Thompson added that the market is blocking out some of its hours for senior citizens and caregivers to come and get the items they need.
It also plans to have hand sanitizing stations and monitor customers to make sure the produce is kept clean.
A drive-through market was discussed, but Thompson described it as “Plan D.”
“We want to convey the message of food and safety, and you can get all of those in one place,” Thompson said.
Paula Armstrong, a Decatur resident and head coach of Decatur Heritage’s girls basketball team, said she plans to continue her routine of going to the farmers market on First Avenue Southeast two or more times a month to buy fresh vegetables, baked goods and honey for seasonal allergies.
“I think it’s more important now than ever to support all local vendors, whether it be at the farmers market or local restaurants doing pickup," she said. "I think it’s important for us as a community to do that.”
Thompson expects there will be a surplus of produce. Farms that supply local schools with produce will no longer be able to with closures. They will bring those unsold products to the market.
For example, the produce from 6,000 strawberry plants was promised to local schools in a farm-to-school program. The produce from those plants will now be available to customers.
“That’s equivalent to another whole farmer growing strawberries,” Thompson said. “This would be a great time for people to get into canning, stocking up and learning how to make jellies.”
Marilyn Champion of Champion Farms in Falkville sells at the market every year. Her farm is still growing its normal amount of produce, and she is relieved to see the market opening as scheduled.
“I’ve had costumers that have asked me when we will be selling,” Champion said. “They don’t think the market should close. I’m glad that it’s not.”
Champion also added that some customers feel more comfortable buying local produce, because they know who has handled it. She hopes more people will realize the insight customers have on local producers and begin patronizing the market.
“I hope people know that us growing it and getting the produce from us is better,” Champion said. “We hope that’s a good thing that comes out of this.”
Armstrong said knowing who the vendors are is comforting.
"We take the same precautions there that we do when we go to the grocery store," she said. "I clean all of my produce when I get home and always have.
"I’m still going to take those measures no matter what. The less hands that touch it, the better. With it being more local, they don’t have to put more things on it to keep it fresh. It’s being sold very quickly. I’ve always liked that idea.”
The market will be open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on opening day. Thompson expects a different, more cautious atmosphere at the market on opening day rather than the past community atmosphere .
“People love the community and gathering (at the market),” Thompson said. “It’s been emotional, because there may not be the same friendly farmers market atmosphere that you want.”