By Ben Olson
Spring has sprung in North Idaho and the Sandpoint Farmers’ Market is eager to launch into the 2021 season. Market Manager Kelli Burt announced the market would return after a truncated 2020 season due to COVID-19, with a return to Farmin Park and an expanded list of vendors.
“It feels good,” Burt told the Reader. “It feels like we’re regaining that momentum we had in 2019.”
The market’s opening day will be Saturday, May 1 at 9 a.m. It will keep the same hours as years before, with Saturday markets going from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and Wednesday markets from 3-5:30 p.m. Oak Street will be closed to traffic to allow for more vendor space, and the Jeff Jones Town Square will also be utilized as the market swings into the summer season.
The 2021 Sandpoint Farmers’ Market has seen a number of new vendors, Burt said, attributing the growth to all the new people that have moved to the area in the past year.
“We’re seeing a lot of people that started their own side businesses during COVID times, as well as seeing creative new things that people have put out,” she said.
So far, more than 65 vendors have applied to sell their wares at the market — a number that is usually a lot smaller this time of year.
“We have a lot of returning vendors and a ton of new vendors,” she said. “We’re gaining a lot of momentum.”
During 2020, the market was forced to relocate for a time to the city parking lot — a location somewhat lacking in the charm of its usual location at Farmin Park.
“We took a big step back in 2020 and a giant leap forward this year,” Burt said.
Burt said market staffers are encouraging social distancing, but it will be “up to people to monitor themselves with whatever comfort level they feel. … We want our community to be healthy and safe.”
Masks are recommended based on public health guidelines, but there will be no enforcement at the market.
Also returning this year will be live music every Saturday, which has long been a vital component of the market experience.
“It was apparent last year how much we all missed live music,” Burt said. “It was such a huge part of the market.”
Currently, live music is scheduled for Saturday markets only, but Burt said she is working on funding to be able to hire musicians for Wednesday markets as well.
A new feature added this season is the ability for patrons to donate directly to the Sandpoint Farmers’ Market.
“In years past, people have said they’d be happy to donate money,” Burt said. “We have it set up on our website so people can pay via Square to be a friend of the Farmers’ Market. We’ll be set up to accept donations in person, too, but for now it’s just on the website.”
Donated funds will help pay for live music, Burt said.
Also returning is the Double Up Food Bucks program, which Burt said was a success last year.
“We got funding from Idaho Farmers’ Market Association for this program,” she said. “When people are on SNAP, they can withdraw money at the manager’s booth and we’ll match their money up to $10 for food at the market.”
The program has been available for three years, and Burt said it has been vital for creating better access to food for those who need it.
“It keeps money in a closed circle, too; keeping money within our farmers,” she said. “Really, last year was such a tough year. We saw an increase of people using SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks. I saw the same families that came week after week, and it was the best part of my job engaging with these folks and talking about what they were making for dinner. It’s one of those really amazing programs that we’re really passionate about.”
While the market emphasizes a higher ratio of booths from farmers to achieve the “true farmers’ market status,” Burt said organizers will also include a wide assortment of hot food vendors and bakers, fine arts and crafts booths. For new vendors interested in obtaining a booth at the market, their entries must be juried by the market staff. The last jury date will be in June, so all applications for new vendors must be received by June 1. For returning vendors, staff asks that they apply no later than July 1.
For Burt, it always feels good to launch the opening day at Sandpoint Farmers’ Market.
“The biggest challenge for me this year is that I’m going to have a baby any day now,” she said. An assistant manager will be physically at the market each Saturday while Burt is out for maternity leave, but she intends to be right back at the booth in June as soon as possible.
For more information about the Sandpoint Farmers’ Market, visit sandpointfarmersmarket.org.
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