The Independence farmers market will open for the first time during the pandemic Saturday, several weeks earlier than initially thought.
The farmers market, which takes place at the Independence Uptown Market, 211 W. Truman Road, had been shuttered during the pandemic and wasn’t part of the city’s first reopening phase scheduled to start June 1. It will be open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday in a drive-thru format, the city announced Wednesday.
Vendors will be required to wear face masks and food-grade gloves, with changes between patrons and handling payments. Customers are asked to stay in their vehicle and are encouraged to wear a cloth face covering.
Uptown Market and most other city facilities have been closed to the public since mid-March, and only City Hall, police headquarters and the Utilities Center were scheduled to reopen in limited fashion on June 1. Other city facilities will be closed until at least July 1.
Mayor Eileen Weir said the city officials, market manager Joe Antoine and vendors had been discussing a reopening plan for a couple weeks but didn’t have all the details hammered out before Independence outlined its initial citywide reopening plans.
"This was certainly part of the discussion as we talked about phase one," Weir said, "but all the pieces didn’t come together in time, and we needed to give the people some information (for reopening).
"It has to make sense from a health and safety standpoint, and it also has to make sense for a reasonable way to get your product out there.
"I feel comfortable we have a plan that’s going to minimize the risk to the citizens. I think we have a good plan, but you never know until you put it into motion."
Antoine said it was a matter of putting together guidelines around social distancing and other public health precautions.
Saturday’s market might have fewer vendors than normal, but he believes that will pick up
"We’re only going to have 10 or 12 vendors," Antoine said. "Some have already made other plans, but we should have more next week. Some just don’t have produce yet, because of the cloudy, cool weather this spring.
"We think we have a plan that will work. It will be something new to get used to, but right now everything is like that."
Here’s how the drive-thru farmers market will work:
When they arrive, customers will be given a list of vendors in attendance as well as available products. Drivers will be asked to enter Uptown Market from northeast entrance off Liberty Street (across from the Board of Elections building) and will drive west around the market. If they have completed their purchases on the north side, they can exit to Osage Street. Those with further purchases will turn left and then go east along the other side of Uptown Market, then exit right on Liberty.
For those walking up to the farmers market, they will be directed to a waiting area near the trailer at the northeast entrance off Liberty. Staff will assist them with orders, and people will not be able to walk through the market. The trailer is also where those using SNAP benefits can make exchanges for tokens. Cash or SNAP are the preferred payment methods.
Council members Scott Roberson, Karen DeLuccie and Mike Huff all mentioned during Monday’s City Council that they hoped the city and vendors could hash out a plan to open the market soon, noting that vendors could ultimately sell elsewhere or have to throw out produce.
"They’re product is wasting away; they cannot wait till Phase 2," DeLuccie said.
Becky Frye, who has a produce market based in Lexington and has been a regular vendor in Independence for several years, is among the handful of vendors who had planned to set up a roadside stand on a private lot near Missouri 291 this Saturday.
"We’re happy they’re taking a look at it," Frye said Tuesday about trying to have the market open sooner. "We’re going to do right thing and follow all the guidelines. We’re just wanting to get our produce to the public.
"It would be detrimental to everyone if we waited until July."
Normally, the farmers market is open Saturdays from May through September, with additional Wednesday hours June through September. With the Uptown Market opening in 2018, the farmers market has been indoors on first Saturdays from December through April (until the pandemic). Antoine said the Wednesday markets might be delayed a bit.
Weir said that while the city wants to make the market available for vendors and customers, "It’s not going to be the social experience we’ve all become accustomed to," and she didn’t put a timeline on how long this protocol will be in place.
"Hopefully it’s successful for the vendors," she said. "This is really our first opening (during the pandemic)."
The city of Blue Springs says the Saturday farmers market downtown is scheduled to start May 30.
Drumm Farm, 3210 S. Lee’s Summit Road in Independence, opened its farmers market earlier this month and plans to be open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.