In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Manhattan Farmers’ Market, one of the oldest in the state of Kansas, continues to provide a place for local vendors to sell their homemade goods and homegrown produce.
As mask mandates and reminders to maintain social distance have become the norm in Manhattan, the farmers’ market has put precautions in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. It was declared an essential business and has continued to deliver “safe food in a safe environment,” according to the Manhattan Farmers’ Market website.
Aaron Hemby, freshman in secondary education, said he’s grateful that the market has stayed open despite other businesses closing temporarily.
“There’s not much to do during the summer, so the Farmers’ Market is one of my favorite places to go mess around on a weekend,” Hemby said. “I need to be out and about, and having somewhere to go has helped keep me sane.”
Jake Byard, a vendor at the market, agreed.
“People were cooped up for so long, and they’re coming out and wanting to interact,” Byard said.
For 35 years, Byard has sold his homemade jams, jellies and honey at the farmers’ market. Jake’s Garden Goodies, his Waterville, Kansas-based business, has stayed open at the market throughout the pandemic.
Rather than deterring customers from the Dillard’s parking lot where the market is held every Saturday and Wednesday, Byard said the pandemic has been good for his business.
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“COVID’s brought the best year for the farmers’ market in a long time,” he said. “The farmers’ market is a family friendly venue, and [people have] been buying more than looking this year.”
Vendors at the farmers’ market are taking various precautions such as wiping down surfaces frequently and wearing masks when staying six feet from others isn’t possible. The market also encourages vendors to think about options such as rounding prices to minimize coin transactions and placing extra tables between customers and themselves.
Byard said providing a safer way to shop is likely part of the market’s success in a time of uncertainty.
“I think people feel better being out in the open than cooped up inside a grocery store,” he said.
Hemby said the outdoor setting of the market sets his mind at ease.
“It’s been really annoying watching people not take the COVID situation seriously,” he said, “so when I go to grocery stores and the people around me aren’t wearing masks, I get a little freaked out.”
Hemby said outdoor stands and markets help him feel as safe as possible while out of the house.
In a colorful tent a few spaces down from Jake’s Garden Goodies, Shirley York has been selling floral arrangements and handmade crafts for over 36 years.
With family and friends in Manhattan, York said the market is a great place to socialize as well as shop. She said public support for the vendors at the market has remained strong throughout the pandemic, and she hopes to see customers continue to come around.
As vendors take precautions to keep customers safe, Manhattan residents and customers of the Farmers’ Market are also expected to wear masks when unable to maintain a distance of six feet from others.
The market is held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday.