The 46th annual West Tisbury Farmers Market kicked off Saturday morning, June 14. The outdoor marketplace has relocated to the new Ag Hall, where it will be open to visitors each Wednesday and Saturday throughout the summer, 9 am to noon.
A diverse lineup of local vendors welcomed the day’s customers, displaying Island-grown produce and neatly packaged goods at their storefronts. Chilmark Coffee brewed fresh espresso, and customers leafed through the vibrant greens offered by North Tabor Farm. Marketgoers saw live lobsters, freshly baked fruit pies, and wood-fired pizza, cooked on the spot in Stoney Hill Pizza’s mobile oven.
Throughout the season’s grand opening, the farmers market staff ushered drivers into open parking spaces upon their arrival at the fairgrounds. The weather was kind to vendors and visitors alike, offering a cloudless sky and mild breeze. Shoppers climbed from their cars sporting T shirts, shorts, and a face covering of their choosing.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, required masks are just one of the many safety precautions the Farmers Market is taking this summer. As visitors entered through a marked entrance, a staff member gave instructions for socially distant browsing. Shoppers were asked to move clockwise with the flow of traffic, and when they had finished their shopping, to exit only through the designated area. The farm stands, dispersed throughout the fairgrounds, were separated as much as the new space would allow.
Despite this year’s changes, Saturday’s market was quite a hit. Shoppers flowed in at an early hour, and the pathways remained crowded until the market’s end. Though the high turnout made social distancing tricky at times, the vast majority of shoppers made a necessary effort toward safety. Customers queued within a designated area, roped off by each vendor. They waited beside six-foot markers, at the stands that chose to display them. Waiting to buy sweets from the Enchanted Chocolates stand, customers socially distanced beside signs that read, “It’s worth the wait!” and “Six feet closer to Enchanted Chocolates!”
For Little Rock Farm, 2020 marks the stand’s 32nd year at the Farmers Market. Owner Debbie Koines recalled markets from long before the precautions of today were necessary. “I was at the first ever Farmers Market in 1974,” said Koines. “There were no rules at all — everyone just parked wherever they wanted.”
Though times have certainly changed, it was a good start to the season for the Island bakery. “It’s been a really great turnout, better than we expected,” said Koines’ daughter and Little Rock Farm employee Olivia Giordano. “We probably didn’t even bring enough stuff.” With the time nearing 11 am, Little Rock Farm had already run out of several baked goods. Their neighboring stand, a new Oak Bluffs restaurant called Seaweed’s, was sold out completely. “I think people are just happy to get out and do anything normal,” Koines said of the event’s popularity.
The vendors present at this Saturday’s farmers market seemed optimistic for the weeks to come. “It’s going a lot better than I expected, and it’s such a beautiful day,” Garden Farm owner Lydia Fischer said. This year will be Fischer’s third time around at the Farmers Market, selling a variety of fresh produce including tomatoes, her self-proclaimed specialty. “I’m a solo farmer, so especially in these times, I’m just trying to figure things out as I go,” Fischer said.
For Island apothecary Breezy Pines Farm, Saturday’s market didn’t present any challenges too great to conquer. “We did a lot of prep at home to make sure we were ready for the market,” owner Heather Thurber said. Hoping to hasten the shopping process, Thurber grouped some of her products into bundles, to make product selection easier for customers. “For us, it’s gone pretty smoothly,” Thurber said. The shop owner noted that the crowds seemed no smaller than those in her previous 17 years as a vendor.
Not every vendor this summer has a previous Farmers Market to reflect on. For Susie Nedley, owner of Bee Well, this year’s unique experience will be her first. “I feel like the Farmers Market is a great place to see each other, but also to feel safe and nourished,” Nedley said. The shop owner sells a variety of organic goods and herbs through Bee Well, in addition to personal wellness consultations.
Nedley points to the pandemic itself as inspiration for bringing Bee Well to the market. “With the state of things now, I feel like my work and medicine is needed,” said Nedley. “Now is such an important time for us to get in touch with nature.”
As we parted, Nedley offered a sentiment which came up in some form or another with each vendor I spoke to. “I think people are just happy to see each other again,” said the shop owner.
On my way toward the market’s exit, I stopped by the stand for Tea Lane Farm. Customers had queued jaggedly into the market walkway, each one craning their necks to admire the vendor’s flowers. The poppies were unmissable, in sunset shades of orange and red. Beside them, white petals billowed around the centers of the peonies. When I arrived at the front of the stand, owner Krishana Collins crafted me a personalized bouquet based on my request for bright color. I paid for the arrangement using Venmo, a form of virtual payment offered by many of the market vendors this Saturday.
I departed the market with a Little Rock Farm blueberry muffin in my bag, and a bundle of poppies under my arm. Secluded in my car, I could still hear the energetic murmurs of the market behind me. People are happy to see each other again, indeed.
For more information on the West Tisbury Farmers Market and its vendors, visit wtfmarket.org.