This year’s Mercer Island Farmers Market experienced a slow growth at the start, caught a groove two weeks in and it’s going strong heading into the home stretch.
“It was sort of just tucking in and rolling with the punches. You set your bar of just existence as your goal,” said first-year market manager Sam Bradshaw, noting that COVID-19 pandemic health-code restrictions are in place this season.
For the first two markets in June, people were feeling it out and the market opened in a bit of rain with about 20-25 vendors. Adhering to health codes, they’re now fielding 40 vendors, which is about half the amount of a typical year. Masks are also required to be worn by everyone in attendance.
Bradshaw said the Island community is bringing “good vibes” to the market amid the changes this time out.
“I think one of the most amazing things has been the community support and turn out,” he said. “We’re coming close to averaging about 1,500 people a market that come through, that includes families and children.”
The market will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Sunday through Sept. 27 at 7700 SE 32nd St. Next up will be the Harvest Market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 22. Farmers and vendors offer quality Washington produce, fruit, cheese, fish, meat, bread and more. For more information, visit https://www.mifarmersmarket.org/
Safety and comfort are keys for vendors and shoppers, Bradshaw said.
Because they have a lengthy market path to work with, organizers are putting 20 feet between vendors — health-code minimum is 10 feet — and close to 40 feet between vendors that regularly develop lines. People usually do a couple laps around the market sans stopping or chatting because there are people waiting to enter. Volunteer social-distancing monitors keep an eye on lines and make sure visitors are staying 6-feet-plus apart.
“It’s been another thing that the Island has made incredibly easy on us is just the mores around mask use, and social distancing and respect for each other is very strong,” said Bradshaw, adding that masks are available at the market entrance.
Bradshaw said that although they’re focusing on operating like an efficient grocery store, visitors still have a chance to catch up with friends in the nearby park and parking lots and on the trails.
He’s glad that the market — or community gathering place — is making an impact on people in these uncertain times.
“It’s been overwhelming how many thank yous we get on Sundays from shoppers that are just like, ‘You know, I need somewhere to go,’” said Bradshaw, noting that it’s been important for him to soak up the positive community feel as well.
Added Ben Sternberg, market board director: “One of our major goals was creating an environment as close to ‘normal’ as possible and our market managers pulled it off. Our vendors have told us that we’re one of the best performing markets and they love our atmosphere.”
One of the market’s vendors this year is Ecolibrium Farms of Redmond, a self-described diversified vegetable farm that is organic and ecologically minded. The farm has a partnership with Homegrown, which has deep roots on the Island.
“In times like this, being able to feel a sense of community is yearned for,” said Ecolibrium’s Alex Meizlish. “And given the threats we face, a lot of community-building institutions are not safe — theater, gyms, synagogues, even schools. So, being able to have an open-space, naturally distanced venue like a market is exactly what we needed and what I think this community needed. Not to mention, supporting local supply chains is as paramount as ever.”