Bloomington farmers market to use pre-order, drive-through pickup to start season due to COVID-19 protocols

farmers market order scrreen Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 8.40.41 AM
Bloomington farmers market ordering screen (Screen grab on April 2, 2020)

Bloomington’s farmers market will start off the year on a pre-order, drive-through-only basis, due to the required protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details of the drive-through-only approach were revealed in a press release issued late Wednesday this week. Orders for this coming Saturday, April 4, the scheduled opening day of the summer market, have to be placed by the end of the day on April 2.

Also in future weeks, the market will operate on a Thursday ordering deadline for Saturday pickups.

[Updated at 1:24 p.m. on April 2, 2020: Marcia Veldman, farmers market manager, told The Square Beacon that by early afternoon on Thursday, around 500 orders had been received.]

The news of the drive-through approach did not come as a surprise.

Last week, the topic got some discussion at the regular meeting of Bloomington’s board of park commissioners, but details weren’t nailed down at that point. At last week’s meeting, they approved a somewhat reduced percentage of gross sales as the fee for farmers market food and beverage artisans. The vendors who serve coffee, danishes and other prepared foods will be charged 7.5 percent, instead of 10 percent of gross sales.

Deliberations on the topic of food and beverage artisan fees included an assurance that no fees at all—for farmers or food and beverage artisans—would be charged for the first couple of months of market operations. Vendor fees are being waived because of anticipated depressed sales, due to COVID-19 protocols.

The pre-order-and-pickup approach is similar to the one used in the last two weeks by the winter market, which operated out of the new Switchyard Park pavilion this season. The winter market is one of the projects of the nonprofit, Center for Sustainable Living.

The city’s summer farmers market will also use the Switchyard Park pavilion parking lot as the pickup location, not the summer market’s traditional location next to city hall on Showers Plaza.

According to the press release, customers picking up their online orders “will remain in their vehicles, while market staff will deliver market products, packaged and bagged, directly to the vehicle.” The release adds, “Customers will be asked not to leave their vehicle.”

Responding to a question from The Square Beacon, Bloomington’s communication director, Yael Ksander, said pedestrians and bicyclists would also have an option to pick up farmers market orders.

According to the press release, 46 of the 117 approved market vendors have their products available on the ordering website for the initial launch.

Schooner Creek Farm is among the approved vendors for this year’s season. But Schooner Creek does not appear to be one of the 46 vendors who have their products available through the online ordering website for the first week of business. Schooner Creek is the vendor that drew protests for much of last year’s market season, after the white supremacist sympathies of the owners were identified by local activists.

Reached by The Square Beacon, Thomas Westgard, who is one of the protestors who was arrested but not charged for trespassing last year, said his group did not plan to conduct a protest at Switchyard Park this Saturday. As long as Schooner Creek products aren’t available for sale through the online ordering system, Westgard said he considers it a victory.

Wednesday’s press release says that all 117 vendors who applied for participation in the 2020 market were sent acceptance letters. The press release adds that two of the accepted vendors were sent letters “reiterating their specific contractual obligations.”

The letters sent to the two vendors were based on the failure of those vendors last season “to comply with certain rules.”

The city’s response to The Square Beacon’s informal request for the names of the vendors, and their rules infractions, was to ask that a formal records request be filed. The Square Beacon made the formal request Thursday morning.

[Updated at 1:04 p.m. Friday, April 3, 2020 with the text below.] Based on the city of Bloomington’s response to the formal records request, one of the vendors who didn’t comply with certain rules last year, and received an acceptance letter for this year that made mention of it, was  Schooner Creek Farm. The letter of acceptance to Schooner Creek states: “We have previously communicated with you those details—including failing to notify us of the names of stand assistants and allegations of inappropriate behavior by some of those stand assistants.”

The other vendor that received an acceptance letter with a description a failure to comply with rules last year was identified by the city as the contact for Heartland Family Farm. The letter states: “We want to remind you that your 2020 Farm Vendor Contract requires you to collaborate with other vendors and the City, to assist in creating a welcoming environment for all who attend the Market, and to act in a professional manner that reflects your commitment to the Market’s mission and customer satisfaction.”