ASHLAND – The farmers market has been a part of Ashland Saturday mornings for nearly two decades. But the numerous regulations put in place by the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel the popular event.
The first farmers market in Ashland was organized by Mary Ziegenbein in 2002 to help her sons sell produce they grew. A handful of vendors set up tables on the corner of 14th and Silver streets.
In 2016, Lynn and Rob Spackman revamped the market, moving it to 15th Street between Silver and Adams streets, and adding vendors. Fayne Petersen began coordinating the farmer’s market last year and expanded the event even more, with food trucks, seating and other amenities. Last year she had about 25 vendors who participated in the farmers market on a rotating basis, with an average of 12 vendors setting up each Saturday.
This year, Petersen made the difficult decision to cancel the market, like so many other public events in Ashland and the surrounding area. She said the state drew up many new regulations to be used to operate a farmers market during the pandemic, including requiring face masks, limiting the amount of shoppers at each table and mandating that the vendor provide one person to handle the produce and another person to handle the money.
Food cannot be consumed at a farmers market, another directive that would eliminate the food trucks, she added. And the state is barring vendors who do not sell produce from farmers markets. Petersen said she has several vendors who sell jewelry, art and other non-food items that would not be able to participate this year. And another mainstay of the Ashland Farmers Market, live music, would also not be permitted, she added.
“It’s just there are too many state regulations in place for it to be an all-encompassing market like it has been,” Petersen said.
It was not just the regulations that helped Petersen decide to cancel, however. It was a matter of safety.
“I did not want to be responsible for having someone be sick from coming to the market,” she said.
The safety of the vendors was also a concern for Petersen. Two of the vendors who have been a part of the farmers market since 2002 are senior citizens, and would be among those considered at risk for COVID-19.
Petersen was also facing a lack of volunteer manpower for the farmers market this year. Because of the pandemic, the youth from the ROC would not be able to help set up and tear down the tents, tables and chairs like they did last year, she said.
Teresa and Gene Kresak have been vendors for several years, selling the produce they grow on their farm north of Ashland. Teresa Kresak said she wasn’t surprised that Petersen chose to cancel the farmers market, but she is sad to see it happen.
“For the safety of everyone involved, the vendors and the public, it was probably the best decision,” she said.
Kresak said their garden is flourishing this summer, and she will have a bounty of produce when harvest begins. Without the farmers market, she is looking at other ways to sell the vegetables and fruits of her labor, including using online methods, offering fresh produce at a local downtown business or putting up a produce stand in Ashland. She is certified to accept coupons from senior citizens and Women Infants and Children (WIC) participants, so she definitely wants to make her produce available for these people.
“I know a lot of people depend on it,” she said.