The Cabot Farmers Market is attempting an innovative way to keep the market open this summer by offering a drive-thru market, beginning in May.
“Our customers and vendors want us to open and still be able to provide fresh produce for the community,” said Matt Webber with Cabot City Beautiful. “With the new guidelines from the Arkansas Department of Health, we are trying to come up with some procedures that still observe social distancing.”
The market will open May 2 and be open from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday through Sept. 12. The market will take place in the parking lot of Renew Community Church in Cabot, 1122 S. Second St.
“A farmers market contributes to the social and economic welfare of a town and helps produce a strong sense of community identity,” Michael Jones, the co-market manager, said in a press release.
“The farmers market will stand as a common ground where people can interact with local farmers and fellow residents of the community, as well as provide a local source of fresh produce,” Jones said.
Under the new guidelines, the market will be set up for a one-way drive-thru operation and will be limited to 20 vendors, who must reserve a booth space by 5 p.m. Tuesday of each week. Webber said there will be lanes to drive through in the vendor area, but if it becomes unsafe or guests are unable to follow directions, the market may be reduced to one lane.
“The biggest requirement is that we ask customers to stay in their vehicles at all times,” Webber said. “We are encouraging folks to contact vendors ahead of time and order products because [customers] won’t be allowed to get out of their vehicles and browse.
“We don’t want customers wondering through, touching items and putting them back — we are discouraging that completely. It might require a little rearranging on the vendors for how they set up their booths.”
Webber said the vendors will have to stand between their displays and the vehicles and hand items to the customers and try to keep people moving through as quickly as possible.
John Martineau with Rose Hill Homestead in Romance has been a vendor at the market for three years. He said he does plan on selling at this year’s market under the new guidelines.
“It is going to be a challenge,” Martineau said. “I don’t know if it is going to be difficult. We are fortunate that we have been there for three years, and people know us and know our products.”
He said he plans to do a bunch of preorders and some deliveries. The business offers chicken, pork, eggs and, this year, is dabbling in vegetables. He said the demand is definitely high for fresh produce.
Webber said that currently, only two vendors have confirmed a spot. But he said it is still early, and he is confident the market will have more vendors as it gets closer to opening day.
“I’m sure by the end of this week, I will have at least 10,” Webber said. “Under normal circumstances, we usually average about 15 to 18 vendors every week, and that’s with crafters and miscellaneous vendors.
“With the restrictions right now, we won’t have any crafters because of the guidelines — it is food only. Handmade lotions and face-mask vendors are also permitted. We have a couple of vendors who sell that, so they will be out there.”
This is the 13th year for the market, and each year, Webber said, strawberries are always in high demand, and it takes other produce a while before it starts coming in.
“We are always a little sparse to begin with, but I am confident we will have a good selection of growers out there, including folks who have honey, eggs, frozen beef and chicken,” Webber said. “They are all going to be out there, trying to sell their stuff.”
He said that, hopefully, the restrictions will be lifted, and eventually, the market will be operating as normal once the pandemic is over.
“I know there is a shortage of eggs at the grocery store, and we’ve got folks and vendors that have eggs coming out of their ears,” Webber said. “They will be in high demand for sure, if things don’t change.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or email@example.com.