With roosters crowing and swimming ducks in the backdrop, the Sammamish Farmers Market kicked off its thirteenth year at a new location beside a big red barn.
Now situated at northern end of Sahalee Way, the first market of season opened on June 3, and created a moment in history as one of the first signs of normalcy in the COVID-19 era. Under the muted rays of a partly sunny day, it almost seemed as if there was no pandemic.
Traditionally co-sponsored by the City of Sammamish and operated by the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce, the farmers market was located just beside city hall in prior years. Its popularity grew since it started in 2008, and a decade later, it was attracting up to 2,500 customers per week and became a gathering place for the community, complete with live music and tables to sit and enjoy fresh food.
This year, the Chamber was challenged to find a new location for the market after the city cancelled its sponsorship of all summer events, including the farmers market. This meant the Chamber could no longer use its original location.
The city made the decision “in order to protect the community and mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19,” according to a statement released on May 21. As a result, the Chamber reached out to community members to see who could host the market.
Chelsea and John Carrigan, who had been market vendors in previous years, offered their Red Barn Farm to the Chamber. Their location in unincorporated King County was outside the city’s jurisdiction, and located conveniently beside a major state highway (Hwy 202). Deborah Sogge, the CEO of the Chamber, said she was excited to finally get the market going again.
“The Chamber’s desire to keep the public safe while offering essential fresh farm food is our priority,” Sogge said.
Upon closer inspection of the event, signs of the COVID-19 era can still be found. The Chamber has had to reinvent how the market operates to meet public health guidance from King County. The market still offers farm and agricultural produce, but baked items and other ready-made foods are pre-packaged, and need to be reheated.
“We are working with the health inspector to fine tune everything, but our goal is to host a COVID-19 safe market and we are taking all the precautions that the Public Health [King County] have given us,” Sogge said.
Upon entering, customers must answer a few questions about their current health condition. They are also encouraged to wear masks. Capacity is monitored, and limited, in each of the farmers market’s four designated quadrants, and customers are asked to move in a one-way direction down the row of stalls. Organizers have installed hand-sanitizing stations throughout the area, and volunteers will sanitize common touch points throughout the market every 15 minutes.
Masked and gloved, all vendors are asked to minimize contact with customers by implementing no-touch sales, where customers point to the items they want. There are three designated visitor spots per booth for maintaining physical distance, and pre-orders are encouraged when possible.
Sogge, the Chamber CEO, recommends that patrons come closer to the opening (4pm) or closing time (8pm) to help spread out the volume of people on site.
Even with these limitations, many vendors said they were appreciative of just having an opportunity to sell their goods again.
“Like any other small business, we miss our customers,” Anna Taros, from North Bend Bakery, said. “We are excited to be here. The market has taken such wonderful precautions.”
Shoppers seemed happy that they can finally go to a farmers market after months of lockdown. Some even came from out of town.
Karon Hoff and Frankie Wilson, who are in their 50s, stopped by when they noticed the commotion while driving down the highway. They came from Bothell.
“We did not feel nervous at all,” they said. “This was an unexpected visit and we will be back.”
Returning customers Melissa Detwiler and Derick Moser came with their young children. They said they were excited to get fresh produce and were very comfortable with the precautions being taken.
Since the Chamber works directly with farmers and cuts out the middlemen, funding has been hard to come by, especially with the loss of city hall sponsorship. Sogge said the Chamber is grateful to its current sponsors, whose donations help to pay for peripherals such as signage and equipment.
“I want to thank the Sammamish people for supporting the farmers market,” Sogge said. “It’s not about us, the Chamber. It’s about the farmers market farmers and vendors.”
Note: The market will not be open on June 10, but will resume on June 17.