It might not look like it has in past years, but the Houston Farmers Market is ramping up for the 2020 Summer season.
Speaking to Houston Today program manager at Houston Link to Learning Marian Ells said that while it’s hard to estimate turnout produce vendor turnout prior to early-to-mid July (when these kinds of vendors really begin to pick up) that so far the market has seen an average number of vendors compared to past years, despite COVID-19 restrictions put in place.
“I’d say that the [amount of] vendors is maybe a little bit increased,” she said, adding during late June to early July they often average around five to 12 vendors and that recent weeks have all seen figures within this range, but that things often pick up in July.
“We just don’t have large amounts of produce available and that’s what often what people come to the market for and it’ll be another … probably few weeks before we have much of that.”
On March 26 the Ministry of Health designated farmers’ markets as essential food and agriculture service providers. While the gatherings are allowed, they must comply with a number of enhanced sanitary measures, including creating entry and exit points to control the number of customers, limiting customers (even those in groups) to less than six people per table and increasing physical space between vendors.
Ells said it’s been a bit of a learning curve, especially for a market manager who began this year and was thrust into COVID-19 without having experienced previous years at the market.
However despite the challenges she said things have actually been going smoothly — minus the not-so-great weather they’ve had for the first three markets — and praised the enthusiasm of all those who have been involved with the market in 2020. She added that an unexpected benefit of COVID has been that they now have the market set up in a way that going through the entrance to the exit brings you past all the vendors.
“We’ve strategically set it up so that they have to walk through the market — they can’t just go to a [food truck] and leave,” she said.
On that note, Ells said they have reached out to food trucks in the area in an effort to bring the businesses — most of which are unable to attend the vast majority of their normal events for this time of the year — to Houston.
So far they’ve had a decent amount of success, with at least one food truck — Sum Shockin’ Good, which serves the region with a number of Newfie-inspired eats — stopping by the market for the first time.
“We’ve been trying for years to get them to the market,” explained Ells. “So hopefully they’ll do well enough that they’ll be enticed back next year.”
But the pandemic has also brought with it a host of challenges, the biggest of which she said was a simple need for more manpower.
“Across the board it’s taking more people and more staff time to do everything,” she said. “Normally we just have a market manager and the students there, but now we have to schedule other staff to be there because we have to monitor the entrance and we have to monitor the exit and we have to set everybody up and provide that spacing.”
Houston Link to Learning — a local not-for-profit supporting literacy in Houston and the surrounding area — has been running the Houston Farmers Market for about five years now after the previous group running the market folded. The organization wanted to ensure that the market’s nutrition coupon program (which it ran) could continue, so they decided to step in and take over running the market.