Two colorful columns of balloons, topped with balloon carrots and citrus fruits, greeted shoppers as the “Essential” Lodi Certified Farmers Market debuted at a new location and time on Thursday morning.
The market, featuring local farmers and food vendors, is temporarily being held in the parking lot shared by First Baptist Church and Millswood Middle School in Lodi, a departure from its usual evening time slot and traditional Downtown Lodi location.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced organizers to make adjustments to adhere to state and county orders that place restrictions on public gatherings. The guidelines for the market were clearly stated on large displays at the entrance, with signs directing shoppers to maintain 6 feet of separation as they shopped. Rules included no sampling allowed, food from food trucks is take-home only, and frequent cleaning and sanitation of tables and payment devices.
Around 30 vendors were spread out in three rows in the parking lot, which each vendor having plenty of space for social distancing. Food trucks allowed customers to order takeaway meals only.
Mitzi Breckenridge, who was one of the first shoppers of the day, liked the new morning time. “It’s so much better than the heat,” she said as cloud cover kept the temperature down as the morning sun rose in the sky.
Jeff Ferrari of Ferrari Farms said that he had measured produce ahead of time, allowing customers to quickly get in and out and buy what they need in a no-touch system.
“If people just want a smaller amount, we have them in baskets, and they can pick which basket they want and we’ll weigh them by the pound. And we’ve got grab and go bags.”
Pat Patrick, CEO and president of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, deemed the first day of the market a success.
“We didn’t know what to expect crowd size, because this venue is completely different than downtown and this is a farmers market only, so it’s completely different from what we do downtown,” Patrick said. “But at the same time, I am elated, because the crowd was much bigger than we had anticipated.”
At 12:30 p.m., Patrick estimated 1,100 to 1,200 people had shopped at the market. Before the market opened, Patrick and Marina Navarte, the Chamber’s director of membership, measured out and placed yellow markers on the ground so shoppers could maintain proper distancing while waiting in line.
Only the farmers themselves, wearing gloves, were allowed to touch the fruit and vegetables and place it in bags for the shoppers. Patrick said they had to gently nudge a few people to adhere to guidelines, and guided a few people on bicycles to the proper parking corral before they were allowed to enter the market. No dogs or bicycles are allowed inside.
“So far I love it. I didn’t expect it to be so big,” said Mary Ritchie, sporting a cupcake-themed mask. “Everyone’s been cooped up, I think they are happy to get out.”
“We were busier than expected,” Leon Kuhn, with Ferrari Farms, said as he loaded up some more cherries on his near-empty table. “I had to have my son come bring us some more.”
In the next row over, the staff at Rosa’s Bakery were packing up their tent early, as they had completely run out of baked goods to sell.
“It was great, everyone was very supportive,” co-owner Claudia Torres said. “People came out and we sold out in two hours.”
Melissa Hopps, of Lodi, bought some hummus at Hummus Heaven.
“I’m loving it. I have been waiting for the hummus guys to come back,” she said.
Chanakya Munasinghe was manning the Hummus Heaven table. He said they had a good turnout and had run out of bread and chips.
“We usually have a crowd of people sampling hummus, but we can’t do that right now,” he added.
Patrick said the response to the reopening of the market was very positive.
“This has been so well received by people. There are people seeing each other that haven’t seen each other in a while, because their church hasn’t met or their club hasn’t met. So it’s just been very good,” Patrick said.
Looking ahead, Patrick said there will be changes to the parking starting next week, noting that cars will be re-routed to the back and side of the church, where there are 87 parking spots available. The two main lanes will be for pedestrian and bike traffic only, as many people arrived from the surrounding residential area on foot or by pedal.