The Little Italy Saturday farmers market returned, with restrictions.
I don’t know what it says about our appetites in isolation, but well before noon the stand for Da-Le-Ranch meats had sold out of rabbit. Duck breast and Cornish game hen too.
Farmers market vendors and customers wearing masks on April 4
This was the tentative re-opening of the Little Italy farmers market, which had been shut down the first few weeks of coronavirus restrictions. It was operating at its usual time and place — 8 am 'til 2 pm on Date Street and the Piazza della Famiglia. But its usual 175 or more vendors had been whittled down to 19, all agricultural producers plus the fishmonger, Dry Dock Fish Co. And instead of the usual six blocks, the market stands were spread apart over two.
Cash and card transactions allowed at the farmers market, but no-contact payments like Apple Pay and venmo preferred during coronavirus outbreak.
Other restrictions applied, including how many shoppers were on each block at one time. Further social distancing guidelines included standing six feet apart from fellow shoppers, and likewise standing back from the booths themselves, pointing at the products you want, rather than the old sample and squeeze policy.
On a normal Saturday, these blocks would be overcrowded with people, including couples and families, brushing shoulders as they bounce from booth to booth. By comparison, this edition saw 50 people at a time at most, well spread out and mostly shopping alone (as encouraged by a list of Covid-19 shopping guidelines posted at each entrance).
Masked customers spaced apart at the farmers market during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Compared to normal times, the place looked almost deserted, but as evidenced by that sold-out rabbit, looks can be deceiving.
“Obviously there’s way less traffic than our normal operation would be,” market manager Catt White told me, from behind a protective face mask we’re all now encouraged to wear. I’ve got mine too. But, she pointed out, “Every single person who is here, is here to shop. And there’s a lot of people shopping for two or three households, so the sales have been pretty good.”
Vegetables for sale at the farmers market
From what I could see, she was right. This was not the usual browsing and lingering crowd. The customers I saw quickly moved from table to table, asking questions, pointing out their produce, and then going on their way. After 20 minutes, all the customers who had been there when I arrived, had gone, and a new round in their place.
Every one of the market vendors were wearing masks, and more than half the shoppers. While a few masked shoppers appeared anxious about being out in public, for the most part, face coverings and six feet of space between us made most seem a little more outgoing and friendly. Maybe because we’ve all spent too much time at home lately, maybe because the market didn’t feel as harried without the crowd, or perhaps because wearing masks allowed a good-natured anonymity on this sunny day so close to the waterfront.
Sweet red strawberries sold by Rodney Kawano Farms
Many of the vendors present were familiar local farms: Maciel Family Farms, J&R Organics, and Rodney Kawano Farms. A few were here from Central California. Vendors were accepting cash, but contactless payments were encouraged. At Da-Le-Ranch I bought chicken using Apple Pay on my phone. At Rodney’s I bought some beautiful strawberries with Venmo.
Most of the farmers I spoke with remain in high spirits despite a loss in market business. Most farmers markets remain closed county-wide, and many restaurant clients have shut their doors, so farms have been stepping up their CSA box programs, and finding other ways to distribute product, hoping to avoid plowing under unused crops.
Some farmers markets, such as the county’s oldest farmers market in Vista, have remained open each week, while most remain closed at this writing. Some, such as the La Mesa and South Bay markets, have continued by implementing a pre-order and drive-thru pick-up model.
The city of San Diego initially shut down all farmers markets, but has tentatively allowed them to resume. Little Italy Mercato Certified Farmers’ Market will return next Saturday, for now. And others may follow on a case by case basis. See the list of active farms markets below, and check the progress of your local farms and local markets at the San Diego Farm Bureau website.
- Santee Certified Farmer's Market
- South Bay Certified Farmers’ Market (Pre Order and Drive Thru pick-up)
- La Mesa Certified Farmers’ Market (Pre Order and Drive Thru pick-up)
- Poway Certified Farmers’ Market
- Vista Certified Farmers’ Market
- La Jolla Open Aire Market
- North San Diego (Sikes Adobe) Certified Farmers Market
- Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market