Copley Square Farmer’s Market the First to Re-open

In a time of uncertainty and virtuality, organizers of the Copley Square Farmer’s Market hope that real fresh food will be a refreshing reason to venture out and buy food in a safe, open alternative to a supermarket.

The Copley Square Farmer’s Market opened for the first time this season on Friday, May 22, and will continue to operate every Tuesday and Friday through the fall. It was the first Farmer’s Market to open in the City, and only the second or third in Greater Boston, and it was by and large an experiment to see how operating an open-air market could work with restrictions for COVID-19.

Richie Allium of Atlas Farms holds some garden plants for sale during the Copley Square Farmer’s Market last Friday – the first market in Boston to open for the summer. The market is viewed as a safe, outdoor alternative to supermarkets. It is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays. First 30 minutes are Senior Citizen hours.

In a spring of confinement, organizers believe the Farmer’s Market could just be the safe thing to breath some fresh air into the lives of quarantinees in the downtown.

“It’s incredibly important for us to be here today,” said Edith Murnane, executive director of Mass Farmer’s Markets – which rents the space from the City and operates the market. “For these farms to survive and be sustainable, they need to participate in direct to the consumer spaces like this. There was a lot of thought put into it and we organized it so people will feel comfortable and safe…Copley Farmer’s Market looks physically different this year because of the DPH guidelines of have one entrance. It’s not as amorphous as it was in the past.

“We’re able to offer more space, and outdoors, for our aisles than in the grocery store,” she added. “Here, our aisles we created are about 10 to 12 feet and could be 18 feet wide. It’s a much more open environment. We do have a limited number of people though we can let in the space. In this pandemic, we believe Farmer’s Markets are going to be your best and safest way to procure fresh products.”

And with it being in walking distance of the Back Bay, South End, Bay Village and other close-by neighborhoods, the Copley Square Market is getting a good deal of momentum. On Friday, the scene was less open, being roped off carefully in the Square and having reconfigured booths with only two entries/exits. Anyone entering had to have their hands sprayed with disinfectant and were required to wear a mask.

Atlas Farms has been with the Market in Copley since 2005, and Richie Allium has been the stand director there for the past three summers. He said there was a great deal of uncertainty last winter when the pandemic set in. They had been in a winter market that was abruptly cancelled and they were beginning to plant the vegetables and seed plants in their greenhouse. There was uncertainty, but on Friday Allium said he was really happy to be there in the City.

“This is critical for us to survive as a farm,” he said. “We have 100 plus acres planted and half goes to wholesale and half to retail at the market here. We have operated here at least for 15 years and in that time we’ve built up relationships with our customers who come back. I think we’re doing a good thing here and I think we’re doing it in a safe manner.”

The response on Friday was pretty good, he said. Because the weather has been horrible this spring, there wasn’t much ready for selling in the way of vegetables, but there were cucumbers and plants for the garden and other treats.

“I think a lot of people really liked us opening today,” he said, noting that they had planned to open on Tuesday but could not. “I’m hopeful. I’m anxious. I was wondering if anyone would show up. But we sold out of asparagus and 70 percent of the plants we brought were sold.”

At the stand, like the others there, workers wore face coverings and gloves. Hand sanitizer was readily available and customers were blocked from coming too close. Instead of a store type situation, it was set up as a deli counter operation, which worked well.

And a cool innovation was a foot pump hand washing station that worked on people power.

“We’re at the point now as a society that if we make the right decisions on a start and return, we’re going to get out of this,” he said.

Market Manager Jessi Rubin was patrolling the booths all day Friday, and keeping watch over the exit – as patrons had to enter on Dartmouth Street and exit on St. James.

“I feel really good about the opening,” she said. “I felt like everyone cooperated well. Vendors showed up super-prepared for social distance and shoppers cooperated too. I think it will be a great season and it’s a really safe alternative to going to the grocery store.”

As she monitored the exit, a passer-by in a mask and rubber gloves looked over at the activity, wondering if it was even legal.

“Are you open?” she asked.

“Yes we are,” she said.

“Is that permitted?” asked the woman.

“Yes it is,” she said.

A smile came over the woman’s face under the mask as she nodded in excitement.

Finally, a real thing.

The Copley Square Farmer’s Market is open every Tuesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Senior citizens are welcome for special hours during the first 30 minutes.

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