‘We finally can do this’: Vendors, shoppers at Lethbridge Farmers’ Market gather with new restrictions

The 50th annual Lethbridge Farmers’ Market at Exhibition Park kicked off on Saturday morning, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The response that we have gotten online is exceptionally positive to have the farmers’ market back in town,” said CEO of Exhibition Park Mike Warkentin.

By 8:40 a.m., customers were lined up outside the pavilion to start shopping as soon as doors opened at 9 a.m.

Paul De Jonge, owner of Broxburn Vegetables, is glad to sell his locally grown produce for his 25th year at the market.

“We have people wanting to buy our stuff, so if there’s no avenue, they may have to drive to the farm,” De Jonge said.

“To bring it to town at the market, I think it’s beneficial for all the vendors, so it’s great to see that we finally can do this.”

Customers were equally as excited, saying the small crowds and safety measures made the experience worthwhile.

“We like to support local when we can,” said shopper Danielle Beaver. “With this being the first market, it’s our first opportunity to do that.”

To keep the facility safe for vendors, employees, and shoppers, Exhibition Park laid out a variety of regulations, including:

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  • only one adult allowed per household
  • maximum capacity of 50 shoppers at a time
  • prepare to wait outside if maximum capacity reached
  • keep browsing and socializing to a minimum
  • no handling or sampling of products
  • have cash ready because there will be no ATMs
  • don’t bring reusable bags
  • sanitize hands before entering
  • one-way entrances and exits to better facilitate customer counts and reduce contact

“People are being highly respectful of the rules and the social-distancing measures, which is fantastic to see,” said Warkentin. 

According to Warkentin, 39 vendors were ready for Saturday’s opening, but that number is expected to grow as weeks pass and more vendors are prepared to sell products.

“As we grow and get more into our June season, a lot of the greenhouses, Hutterite colonies and regular produce vendors start coming back to the market,” said Warkentin. 

Normally, vendors fill the north pavilion of Exhibition Park side by side, creating a close-knit shopping experience.

This year, however, food vendors were designated to the north pavilion, while non-food vendors set up shop in the main pavilion, making the area seem much more sparse.

Warkentin said those vacant areas will start to fill up.

“Next week, we’re up to 50, beyond that 56, and into June we’re up over 60 vendors with multiple booths in some cases,” he said.

When asked if the increase in vendors would impact how many shoppers would be allowed on site, Warkentin said they will be figuring that out along the way.

“We are going to look at what type of capacity we can take on as we sort of get the feels of this,” he said.

He added that increased signage and regulations will likely be put in place as space fills up with vendors.

The market typically runs from Mother’s Day weekend until the end of October, but with uncertainties still in the air, Warkentin said organizers will be taking it week by week — but they hope to be open for as long as possible.

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