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Farmers market season renewing community spirit statewide

Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services todd-johnson-farmers-market.jpg
Oklahoma communities welcome this year’s farmers market season after COVID-19 reduced vendor and customer attendance in 2020.
Farmers market organizers work to keep vendors and customers safe as they return to in-person sales and events.

Much like the annual food festivals and hometown celebrations that center on Oklahoma’s bountiful harvests, farmers markets are kicking off their summer schedules in communities across the state.

Each market varies, but for most weekly popup events, opening weekend is held in late April or May and runs through August or October. As the COVID-19 pandemic loosens its grip on the country and safety protocols are lifted, organizers remain diligent in their attempts to protect vendors and customers.

The Norman Farm Market in Cleveland County welcomes shoppers every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning. When businesses began to shut down last year during the pandemic, the market got creative and offered a drive-thru feature for customers. Known as one of the oldest farmers markets in the state, it is partnering this year with Oklahoma State University Extension to offer a free series of Food for Thought classes every Tuesday evening.

“From plant biology and soil sciences to building garden beds and protecting your plants from insects, the class covers everything you need to know about growing your own food,” said Courtney Dekalb-Myers, Cleveland County horticulture/4-H educator.

At the conclusion of the gardening series, OSU Extension will provide a farmers market quilting class. Also, Cleveland County 4-H will host a petting zoo and dairy cow milking demonstration, and the county’s family and consumer sciences specialist will offer pressure canner checks in preparation for the summer canning season.

The Tillman County Farmers Market in Frederick, Oklahoma, opened four years ago selling local produce, treats, home goods and gifts. Now — as many residents are unsure of how or when to mingle in public — organizers are trying to add features and generate more excitement around the weekly market.

“We’re going to have healthy eating demonstrations and offer some live entertainment this year,” said Lynn Hammack, the market’s facilitator. “Some of our vendors include a T-shirt designer and a breakfast burrito station where the proceeds benefit the local food bank.”

In Weatherford, event coordinator Ed Crall said the town’s opening weekend in April was postponed last year due to the pandemic, but the market’s organizers learned the delay wasn’t a bad thing.

“Waiting until the first Saturday in May allowed vendors to offer more fresh items from their gardens,” Crall said.

Weatherford’s market is home to eight vendors and typically draws from 85 to 120 customers. Located a block off of Main Street, the market’s peak summer produce options include sweet corn, tomatoes and melons along with custom products such as goat’s milk soap and fresh cut flowers.

In Miami, the Ottawa County Farmers Market looks to bounce back after a year of fewer vendors and customers. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 also pushed back its opening date by a month in 2020.

“We started offering online sales because producers still had produce and eggs available,” coordinator Kris Woodruff said. “We didn’t force anyone to do anything, but we decided to put in our own restrictions just to be safe.”

The market provided masks, hand sanitizer and handwashing stations while encouraging customers to practice social distancing. An event that usually attracts around 300 people, the market was lucky to see 200 on a given week.

A year later, things are looking up. The market opened May 20 at its new location at the Ottawa County fairgrounds, and vendor participation is expected to double. Another twist to this year’s market: The Ottawa County Department of Health and the Northeastern Tribal Health System are teaming up to offer a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for the first four weeks.

“We’re excited to hang out with the community again,” Woodruff said.

A complete list of Oklahoma’s farmers market locations is available at oklahomaagritourism.com.

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