With the advent of spring, Missoulians look forward to the opening of the Clark Fork River Market. Normally the Saturday markets double as community get-togethers with prime people watching and socializing with friends and family enjoying the sights and smells of fresh local seasonal produce.
Normally a near carnival like atmosphere with music, ready to go prepared food, coffee and beverages, the market is a huge draw located at the end of Pattee Street alongside the Clark Fork River. Like so many aspects of life in 2020, the market has had to make some drastic temporary adjustments.
But you can’t stop a good thing! Local farmers have been growing their produce, beekeepers have been harvesting honey, butchers have been processing meat and the citizenry is are eager to get out on Saturday mornings to shop.
Health Department Guidelines
In early May, Clark Fork River Market manager Kirsten Hands received Phase 1 COVID guidelins provided by the Missoula City-County Health Department, and submitted an Operational Plan for the opening of the market to the Conditional Operating Committee, which granted a ‘Conditional Approval’.
Protecting the public is the Health Department’s primary concern. The terms laid down for the opening weekends of the market include specific rules. City Health Dept workers will be monitoring the market to ensure compliance of all vendors, staff, and volunteers to be wearing masks. The crowd level will be kept under a maximum of 250 people at any time. Social distancing will be strongly encouraged. If the Health Department monitors find that these guidelines are not being met, they can ‘pull the plug’.
With the approved guidelines, Hands and crew went to work to organize and set up an operating plan to move forward with opening market with the first Saturday held on May 16th.
Enabling Market Orders
Hands’ main concern was in assisting the vendors in getting their produce in the hands of market customers. For many vendors, the summer markets are their main revenue source. Hands wanted to make sure that they had a an effective and approved procedure to connect with the customers. A new system of enabling vendors to digitally post their offerings online, and for customers to choose, pay, and safely pick up their produce orders was designed, tested, and approved.
Using a customizable online farmer’s market app, Hands educated the farmers to enroll, log on, upload inventory descriptions/images and pricing, and prepared to fill customers’ orders.
The first week of online sales opened on Monday, May 11th. Customers were encouraged log in to the Clark Fork River Market website, and shop through all the vendors’ pages on one site. First week market choices included plants, starters, honey, kombucha, veggies, pastries, much more. To give the vendors time to fill the orders and get them down to the market, a cutoff on Thursday at 1:00pm was established. Hands anticipated only around 50 orders the first week, and along with the vendors was pleasantly surprised to see over 150 orders.
Early Saturday morning, the vendors rolled in with over $5,000 worth of fresh local produced products pre-organized for pickup by the last name of the customers. A small team of volunteers was on hand to assist in get the orders ready for customer pickup. With three customers allowed to roll in for pickup every five minutes, traffic flowed smoothly and efficiently. Customers were grateful to be able to be taking home fresh locally grown produce and to help the hard working local producers.
“Thanks for coordinating the market pick up today. Everyone was working so hard. I am sure the crew is pretty worn out. I know I am very appreciative – I can’t even imagine how thankful the farmers and vendors are.”Ruth Quintero, Market Customer
The guidelines issued for Phase 1 point toward a wider opening of the Clark Fork River Market on May 23rd, with stipulations specific to onsite sales. Processed / ready- to eat consumables are not yet allowed at the market. During this phase, meat must be uncooked and frozen / processed at a state approved facility. No cooked meat is allowed. No dairy products, including milk and cheese, are allowed as they are processed. Fresh produce must be harvest washed and locally grown. Only raw honey is allowed; no whipped honey or any jams or jellies at this time. June 1st is expected to reveal more new allowed product categories, but specifics will not known until that time.
The Clark Fork River Market is strongly encouraging shoppers to order online by Thursday at 1:00pm, for pick up onsite at the market on Saturday morning. Not only will these orders be filled first but it will also help maintain market visitors count below the 250 people limit. Despite the limitations on items available from vendor booths, a much wider variety is (including personal care and herbal items) will be available to order online for the drive-in pick up area. For specific items, check out the market’s website.
Pickup on Saturday, May 23rd will be in the lower parking garage under the Bank St Structure off Pattee street. Customers will enter from Pattee, pick up their order in the garage, and exit by the Higgins Street Bridge. Shoppers that want to enter and walk the market are encouraged to park in the Park Place parking garage, and walk down Front Street to Pattee Street where there will currently only one market entrance.
Hands stressed that this is a temporary situation as the Missoula Health Department is acting conservatively out of concern for the public health that allows the community to support our local farmers market and is very much looking forward to a return to full and normal operations.