Farmers markets plan to open on schedule

Apr 21, 2020

The Harvest Moon Local Food Festival is the highlight of the farmers market season.
Credit Courtesy of the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District

Farmers market season is right around the corner but so is a giant crop of uncertainty regarding COVID-19 restrictions.

Still, market organizers on the central Kenai Peninsula are planning to open on schedule, if not completely as normal.

Annette Via organizes the Wednesday Market at Soldotna Creek Park and her family runs Hot Dogs a la Cart. Food sales is considered an essential business and is allowed to be open under current health mandates. As long as that doesn’t change, the Wednesday Market will be open June 3, at least for prepared food and produce vendors.

The market includes craft, clothing and other retail sales, and Villa doesn’t yet know when those folks will be able to join. She has musicians play throughout the afternoon, as well, and that also will be on hold until state restrictions change.

“It’s hard to answer that question because everything’s changing so rapidly. I need to do something with my vendors and tell them, ‘Yeah, this is going to happen or this is going to happen’ but so many things are changing every day it’s hard to plan,” Via said.

Villa is taking over the Kenai Saturday Market this year, which used to be held in the parking lot of the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. It will now be called the Old Town Marketplace and move to the end of Main Street. It’s a food and craft market, as well. Villa would like to add live music and extend the days to Fridays and Saturdays, opening June 5.

“But everything’s so up in the air this year, I might have to wait to next year to get it fully up and functional the way I want it. But this year we’ll just hopefully get people in the mindset that it’s there, if nothing else. The uncertainty of it all, I think, is what’s super stressful for vendors, and for me, because you just don’t know. You have no clue,” Via said.

Via plans to keep both markets open through September to give vendors a chance to make up whatever revenue they might lose at the beginning of the season.

“I think the later we go in the season more likelihood of being able to run the markets, probably not as normal but in a semblance of normalcy, anyway. It will give those vendors an opportunity to make a little income. Because so many people depend on the market to make some money to survive our Alaskan winters,” Via said.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has issued guidelines for how markets can operate given COVID-19 recommendations. Hand washing satiations and hand sanitizer must be available. Everyone should wear masks. Only one customer at a time is allowed per booth and they need to stay two table widths apart from vendors. Customers can’t touch the items and hopefully won’t pay with cash. And booths must be 10 feet apart.

That’s not a problem for Villa, since there is plenty of space at Soldotna Creek Park and the new location in Old Town Kenai. It’ll be more of a challenge for the Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market, held in the bus turnaround lot at Corral and the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna. Organizers Elaine and Bill Howell say the DEC restriction on spacing means they’ll have to cut their vendors by about half. But they’re still planning on opening as scheduled June 6.

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank on Kalifornsky Beach Road is still planning to hold its farmers market, as well, on Tuesdays throughout the summer starting June 16.

Villa hopes to see as much of the community as can come out to the markets, even if it’s just one customer at a time.

“Soldotna and Kenai and the peninsula are just so great as far as supporting small businesses. So I think that’s going to be a huge asset to the market and also to the hot dog cart. Everybody’s showing so much support trying to help the small businesses survive this. Hopefully, I’m just praying that everyone does survive this because it’s really sad," Via said.

The markets all have Facebook pages where you can get updates as we get closer to market season.