By Jeff Malachowski
Daily News Staff
Posted May 31, 2020 at 4:16 PMUpdated May 31, 2020 at 4:16 PM   

Several precautions will be in place to preserve safety.

Many farmers markets across the MetroWest and Milford region are set to open in the coming weeks, but they will have a different look this year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The state Department of Public Health in late April released guidelines for farmers markets to safely open and operate during the crisis, including limiting the number of customers allowed to enter the market at one time, implementing social distancing measures, having customers and vendors wear masks and gloves at all times and minimizing cash transactions, among other measures.

Traditionally, the Ashland Farmers Market was a spot to not only pickup healthy, local produce, but enjoy live entertainment and sit at the picnic tables and enjoy a snack of glass of lemonade. That will not happen this year, however, when the market opens June 13.

“That was the specialty of our market and drew a lot of people,” said Florence Seidell, a member of the board of directors of the Ashland Farmers Market. “We have to cut all those things out.”

The situation is similar in Franklin, which will open its market June 5.

“The market is going to be very different this year as it has historically been a great gathering space on the town common” said Cynthia Garboski, Franklin Farmers Market manager. “This year, the message will be to come in, but local, support your farmers and continue on with your day elsewhere.”

Markets, including Ashland, Franklin, Natick and Framingham, are encouraging customers to preorder and vendors to pre-package their products. Customers will not be allowed to sample any products or handle any produce.

Farmers market opening dates

Natick: Open year-round

Franklin: Friday, June 5

Hopkinton: Sunday, June 7

Ashland: Saturday, June 13

Wayland: Wednesday, June 24

Framingham: Thursday, July 9

Hudson: Market will open, but opening date has not been announced yet

Marlborough: Market will not open this year

Westborough: Market will not open this year

The number of vendors will also be limited at many markets to ensure there is space to social distance. The Ashland market typically draws upwards of 25 vendors, but will only have space for 17 at each market, with the focus on vendors who provide food.

“It’s a very different feel for the vendors as well,” said Seidell.

The Natick market has remained open during the outbreak, but moved from the Common Street Spiritual Center outside to the Natick Town Common several weeks ago to ensure social distancing protocols. The market has been operating on the state and town board of health’s guidelines. Deb Sayre, Natick Farmers Market manager, said the markets 6-1-1 (6-feet social distance, one mask, one customer per vendor) has been followed by customers.

“Everybody has been following the rules,” she said. “We’re trying to make the experience as safe and as efficient as possible. The customers have been delighted they’re getting fresh products, local products.”

The Framingham Farmers Market will open July 9, a few weeks later than normal to ensure customers’ and vendors’ safety, said Tom Hanson, owner of Hanson’s Farm and the Framingham Market manager.

“We’re lucky to have the common,” he said. “We can put people well apart.”

Hanson anticipates asking vendors to install a piece of Plexiglas in front of their booths to add an extra layer of safety.

Hanson said there is very much the desire from locals to have fresh, locally grown produce. The farm stand at his Nixon Road farm opened on Mother’s Day and has been very busy so far.

“People really want to come to the farm and shop here,” he said.

Farmers markets are an important part of the food supply system, much like supermarkets. Markets like the Ashland Farmers Market provide extra benefits to vulnerable populations by matching government benefits, including SNAP, P-EBT and Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons.

“We’re offering an alternative to what grocery stores can do,” said Seidell. “Fewer hands have touched the produce from farm to fork.”

Though markets will look different this year, market officials are hopeful they can provide healthy, locally grown produce for their customers.

“What I hope and ask from customers is that everyone be patient and respect that we are all doing the best we can,” said Garboski. “There is going to be some adjustments in the beginning, but I think we can still have a great market season.”