On a gusty Saturday morning in Lander’s City Park, small-scale farmers from central Wyoming offered garden-variety early-season produce — lettuce, herbs, radishes and hardy greens — along with market favorites like sourdough bread, cheese, coffee and kombucha.
Only this market looked different than it used to. Booths were newly situated at least 10 feet apart, masks obscured farmers’ faces and gone were things like food samples and musicians that would normally draw a crowd.
As it has with most aspects of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way many small Wyoming food producers make and sell their products. Many of the state’s farmers markets — traditionally lively gatherings that draw crowds for socializing as much as for food — have had to rethink how they operate.
“Our very first and foremost concern was people’s safety and how we can protect both the customers and the vendors while still giving them access to locally produced food,” said Nick Hunkerstorm, who grows mushrooms and microgreens at his Uncle Sassy Farm and sits on the Lander Valley Farmers Market board.
For Lander, located in the county with the highest number of confirmed cases in the state, he said, that meant “spacing between booths and customers with a good dose of hand sanitizers and face masks.”
In Laramie, figuring out how to continue a market that typically takes place downtown on Friday afternoons has also entailed extensive conversation, said David Sircin, who manages the Laramie Farmers Market.
The goal, he said, is to strike the balance between “trying to understand both the actual requirements of what you must do and the spirit of those versus still having a place where local businesses have a place to sell.”
In that vein, the Laramie market moved its start date back a week to July 3, and is in discussions with the city about spreading out from its traditional parking lot into an adjacent park or street, he said. The market will also be nixing music and other special events, segregating prepared food vendors and only allowing to-go meals. Vendors also have to comply with mask and other sanitation requirements.
In the Bighorn Basin, where confirmed case counts have been among the state’s lowest, farmers markets are carrying on as usual.
“The committee for our farmers market chose to not require vendors to wear masks and gloves and chose not to require them to be six feet apart,” said Sarah Lowe, who manages the Big Horn Basin Farmers Markets in Cody and Powell. “But typically where we set up, they are in that [six-feet] range.”
They also looked at the state’s health order on crowd limits, Lowe said, which currently allows up to 250 people. Neither market draws that many people at one time, she said.
Lowe has observed a rising demand for local products like milk and eggs during the pandemic, especially when they were harder to find at grocery stores, she said. Big Horn Basin farmers are happy to get back to work, she said.
“As rural as we are in Wyoming, with us being an ag state, our farmers do work very hard to feed us, and having that local support is invaluable,” Lowe said.