The Delaware County Fairgrounds will play host to an agricultural showcase of a different kind this year.

Main Street Delaware will move its annual farmers market out of the city’s downtown to improve social distancing during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The market will begin its annual run May 30 at the fairgrounds, 236 Pennsylvania Ave., said Caroline Pusateri, Main Street Delaware office manager.

“Our organization is very proud to be able to continue this essential service for the community,” Pusateri said.

“We know that it’s important for people to have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and local goods,” she said. “Knowing where your food comes from has always been important, but at a time like this it has become crucial.”

Pusateri said because Main Street partners with such organizations as SourcePoint and the Andrews House to allow senior vouchers and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to shop, it is “vital” that the market continue.

Pusateri said the change was made after consulting with the Delaware General Health District and the city government.

“We are so appreciative that the Delaware farmers market planning committee and Susie Bibler, Main Street Delaware (executive director), reached out to the district for collaboration in planning for this year,” said health-district commissioner Shelia Hiddleson.

“Together, we had excellent conversations about how to continue the market – especially since fresh fruits and vegetables are so important to health – to protect the community and protect the vendors,” Hiddleson said.

“As much as we all love the downtown area for the market, the ability to social distance for the protection of all was just not possible,” she said. “We are all hopeful that we will be able to return to downtown later this year.”

The health district released a statement May 3 that emphasized some of the rules retail establishments must follow to reopen, as set out in state orders from Gov. Mike DeWine.

Among them, employees must wear facial coverings, with few exceptions; surfaces must be cleaned often; and workers must be checked daily for symptoms of coronavirus.

In addition, sampling will not be allowed, and shoppers will not be able to touch products before buying them. Reusable bags won’t be allowed, either.

Vendors will set up at the fairgrounds gate that faces the northern end of Euclid Avenue, one of five gates fronting Pennsylvania Avenue, she said.

The site has plenty of space for vendors and shoppers, said Delaware County Fair manager Sandra Kuhn.

“Parking is much better here than it is downtown,” she said.

Vehicle traffic arriving for the market will enter the fairgrounds at Euclid Avenue at exit at the main gate to the east, Kuhn said.

The market is scheduled to run 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays until Oct. 24, Pusateri said.

Barb Russo said she and her husband, Gary, who operate Russo Farms in Delaware and Morrow counties, have been farmers-market vendors for five years.

Main Street Delaware and the market committee spent a lot of time researching how the market could be held during the pandemic, she said.

That included reviewing plans of farmers markets elsewhere and considering five alternate sites locally, she said.

The farmers-market site will be publicized on social media and on signs around Delaware, she said.

The new version of the farmers market will be held Saturdays only; the downtown market also operated from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, Russo said.

The farmers market has a fee schedule – listed at mainstreetdelaware.com – but that won’t apply at first at the fairgrounds location, Pusateri said.

“The vendor fees will be waived the first few weeks of the market,” she said. “We want to ensure that the market will be successful in the new location, but we do not intend to raise the vendor fees.”

Main Street Delaware will pay a weekly fee to the Delaware County Agricultural Society, which manages the fairgrounds, she said.

Kuhn said the fee will cover preparation costs, such as cleaning restrooms.

Pusateri said the market averaged 45 vendors during the peak of the 2019 season.

Although produce in stores might have traveled hundreds of miles, much of that sold at the farmers market was picked the day before or even that morning, Russo said.

The Russos sell beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, cauliflower, sweet corn and eggplant, among other veggies, she said.

Some of the produce offered – such as yellow beans, mustard greens and Oriental eggplant – can be an educational experience for some shoppers, she said.

Raspberries, available starting in July, are picked the day before they’re sold and provide a “flavor explosion” that supermarket raspberries lack, Russo said.

The market has many repeat customers, and the relationship with shoppers is one of the market’s best aspects, she said.

“It’s what makes the market so much fun,” she said.

The fairgrounds is no stranger to hosting markets, Kuhn said.

A flea market has operated there Sundays during past summer seasons, though it’s been suspended this year by the pandemic, she said.

Dave Thompson said he operates the flea market as a business, and it has routinely attracted 75 to 100 vendors.

The market ordinarily opens in April, and Thompson anticipates it can reopen as Ohio allows more retail businesses to resume operations.

The flea market has plenty of space available for social distancing, Thompson said.

“We’ve got the whole east side of the fairgrounds. We’ll be able to spread the vendors out farther,” he said.

“I’ve got regulars who are eager to get back,” he said. “We’ve got people who live for the flea market.

“We’ve got some really nice vendors. You can find just about anything out there.”

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