The farmers markets in Jefferson County have seen a steady flow of customers, despite a late start this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the Cedar Hill and Arnold farmers markets have seen an increase in customers this year, its organizers said.

While the De Soto Farmers Market has seen a decrease in customers, it still continues to attract between 200 to 240 shoppers each weekend, said Melissa McAlpine, the De Soto market’s executive director.

The Cedar Hill Farmers Market, at 810 S. Industrial Drive, opened for the season on May 15. It’s open from 3-7 p.m. on Fridays through Oct. 30.

Debbie Carbone, a vendor at the Cedar Hill market and one of its organizers, said about 150 shoppers come through on a good day, and the market has gone from having four to five vendors each Friday to eight to 12.

“It has picked up even with the pandemic,” Carbone said. “People are still learning about it. We have been going for a few years, but we still have people say, ‘I had no idea there was a market here.’”

The Arnold Farmers Market, at the entrance of Arnold City Park on Bradley Beach Road, opened May 9 for the season. It is open from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday through mid-October.

Arnold market manager Teresa Kohut said at least 300 shoppers come to the market each Saturday, with as many as 500 customers on a busy day.

“It has been going great,” Kohut said.

The De Soto Farmers Market, at 520 N. Main St., opened May 16. Its hours are 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays through Oct. 31.

“We are still open and plugging along,” McAlpine said. “We are still providing access to local produce, bread, cookies and artisans. We have good customers come through.”

However, business is down, she said.

“It is one of those things where we have decreased revenue and increased expenses,” McAlpine said. Markets were not able to open this year until May because of concerns about COVID-19. Markets typically open in April.

The Hillsboro Farmers Market, 10533 Bus. 21, opened for the season on May 13 and its hours are from 3:30-6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Staying safe

When markets first opened, they had numerous safety measures in place to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For example, the number of vendors and customers allowed at the markets was limited and masks were required to enter markets. However, as state and county restrictions loosened, markets relaxed some rules.

Market organizers said they no longer require customers and vendors to wear masks, although it is strongly encouraged. The markets also ask people to try to remain 6 feet away from each other.

“I would say about 80 percent of the (shoppers) at the market wear a mask,” Kohut said. “We want everyone to feel safe at the market. I would say 70 percent (of the vendors) wear a mask. We encourage social distancing. They are pretty good about that and forming a line (while maintaining space between each other).”

McAlpine said vendors at the

De Soto market are not required to wear masks, but it is strongly encouraged there, too. She also said many customers wear masks, and even though it is no longer a requirement, most customers use the handwashing station at the market’s entrance before shopping.

Organizers said because the markets are outdoors they believe people feel comfortable shopping there.

“It is a pleasant surprise people are coming out to the market with everything that is going on,” Carbone said. “I have heard comments from some customers that they feel safer at the market than they do at the grocery store. They also like buying local.”

Arnold and De Soto have increased the number of vendors since they opened for the season.

Kohut said Arnold is using all 37 of its vendor spots, after only allowing 19 vendors at the start of the season.

McAlpine said De Soto, which has space for 27 vendors, now has 14. When the season started, it was limited to 10.

Musical acts have returned to the markets in Arnold and De Soto. However, neither market has set up places for people to sit and listen to the performers in an effort to maintain social distancing.

Both markets have also canceled festivals and special events to keep large crowds from gathering close together.

“We would love to put out our new bench and have people sit and visit,” McAlpine said. “We just are not comfortable doing it.”

Market futures

Some improvements are in the works for the Arnold Farmers Market this season.

The Arnold City Council is expected to vote at its meeting tonight (July 16) whether to approve a $24,320 expenditure for electrical upgrades to the market. Byrne Electric Company Inc. of St. Louis submitted the lowest of six bids, according to city documents.

“More electricity will allow for more basic things, like using a fan to stay cool and plugging in coolers to keep vegetables fresher,” Kohut said. “It is a way to offer more quality products. Being able to do that would be a huge boost to the market.”

If council members approve the expenditure, lighting will be added to the market.

Arnold Mayor Ron Counts said those improvements could lead to organizations using the market area and its pavilion as a meeting place or an event area.

“I want to see our city move forward by doing this,” Counts said. “I want to see us be able to open the market to more entities who want to hold outdoor events or meetings. That is my end goal.”

McAlpine said a popular option at the De Soto market, a preorder system created because of COVID-19, could become a permanent feature. She said 35 shoppers took advantage of the preorder system and contactless pickup the first day the market was open, and that number has remained steady throughout the season because shoppers like knowing they will get certain items at every market.

“Things like strawberries, blueberries and asparagus, those things are gone by 9 a.m.,” McAlpine said. “If you preorder it, you can pick up what you want, when you want. It gives that added personal touch to customers.”