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You Can Grow It: Shopping at Idaho farmers markets

Farmers markets are extremely popular in Idaho. Some are gradually reopening with new restrictions. Jim Duthie tells us how you can get the products you love.

BOISE, Idaho — Farmers markets are among Idaho’s most popular events and traditions. Most of them are gradually reopening throughout the state, but with some restrictions in place because of coronavirus.

Garden master Jim Duthie tells us about some of the markets that are open now, and how you can support these local small businesses safely and still get the quality products and fresh produce that you love.

Farmers markets have been going on for years, especially on weekends, and from spring to fall you’ll find one in just about every community in southwest Idaho. They set up in parks and in urban parking lots. But due to COVID-19 restrictions this year, it’s not business as usual. Here are some of the things you might want to know as a customer of local farmers markets.

Idaho farmers markets offer a wide range of products, including baked goods, arts and crafts, plants and flowers; and locally made food products like jerky, beverages, and condiments. And, of course, fresh locally grown produce.

But in these days of social distancing and other safety restrictions, things are a little different than they were before.

Tamara Cameron, President of the Idaho Farmers Market Association Board, says the changes are all meant to keep customers and vendors safe.

“All of those restrictions create a completely different experience. It’s a little more like a grocery store and a lot less like a social situation,” Cameron said.

Each farmers market has a website or Facebook page that will provide you with information about how they’re conducting business and implementing the safety guidelines.

“It’s based upon what the government allowances are, but it’s also based on what each community wants,” Cameron said. “All farmers markets are really careful right now to take safe precautions for their vendors and customers and staff. And so, as things might loosen up, each market will make individual decisions about what’s allowable and what’s not.”

And the restrictions not only affect the customers, but the small farmers and other businesses that rely on the markets for their livelihood.

Like Waterwheel Gardens, a family-run business based in Gem County that sells their own locally grown produce.

Matt Williams says they still have the same quality products they’ve always had, but they’ve had to make some adjustments in how they get it from the farm to the customer.

“Initially, before the markets really opened, we saw a big change in having to do more online pre-order type stuff,” Williams said.

A weekly newsletter lists what products are available and customers can place orders and pay online.

“So, a lot of our sales ended up being more, rather than set up and sell to people, it’s become more having people pre-order, and then we go meet them somewhere and they come pick it up,” he said.

And a cooperative effort has developed among their competitors to fill and deliver those orders, from the Treasure Valley all the way to the Wood River Valley, where markets won’t don’t open until June. They’re also working with other local farmers who, in the past, sold their produce mainly to area restaurants, but whose business dropped sharply when those restaurants were forced to close.

“The support’s been great. I mean, we’ve always felt really well-supported in the Treasure Valley hear and over there in the Wood River Valley, but the support for local food and eating local has been great.”

So how have they made shopping safe for customers?

“We have pre-bagged everything,” Williams said. “People are wearing masks for the most part and keeping their distance and pointing at things rather than touching them, and that’s great, we really encourage that at the markets.”

But what Matt misses most is the close interaction with people.

“The first market when we opened was awesome. It was a great feeling to be back getting to talk to people, but keeping the distance, and wearing a mask while talking is tough.”

And while online orders and deliveries are safe and efficient, it’s just not the same.

“It’s not exactly a substitute for open air markets and people walking through and eating with their eyes, shopping with their eyes,” Williams said. “Hopefully we can get back to that more and more.”

“If we can all stay positive, I think we’ll get through.”

For a complete list of farmers markets near you and how to place orders and shop, check out the website for the Idaho Farmers Market Association. 

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