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Murray Journal

Murray farmers markets buzz along with coronavirus precautions in place

Sep 02, 2020 03:41PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

James McBeth sells his handcrafted salsa at the Wheeler Farm Sunday Market. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

It was National Farmers Market Week in August, and even with the need for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Murray’s two markets still drew crowds. The outdoor markets with fresh, locally grown produce have vendors’ stalls spaced farther apart this year to help their customers stay the minimum 6 feet apart.

“We have seen a decrease in vendors, but the crowds are still the same,” Wheeler Farm Market Coordinator Britt Fiscus said. “A lot of vendors did not want to risk coming out during COVID.”

Market managers were forced to adopt new policies and procedures to keep vendors and customers safe, all while ensuring communities have continued access to local, fresh food. As COVID-19 disrupted supply chains, with customers panic buying and stocking up on canned food, farmers have been able to direct most of their products to large wholesalers selectively.

At the Wheeler Farm Sunday Market, artisans and specialty food vendors significantly outnumbered pure farm-to-market vendors. “We offer lower fees to those who sell produce,” Fiscus said. “Food trucks are charged higher rates.”

Utah Farm Bureau started the first farmers market in Utah in 1981, which was located in their Murray office parking lot. That market has since moved to Murray Park. According to the Farm Bureau, “We are a food-only market, with an emphasis on produce and staple foods.”

The Wheeler Farm Market was opened in 2011 by a private interest, but, in 2017, it could no longer run the Sunday-only event. In 2018, Salt Lake County Parks began operating the market, providing the infrastructure and support for producers.

Both markets are taking precautions on the advice of the Salt Lake County Health Department, which issued guidance to customers, vendors, and market directors earlier this year. Signs around Wheeler Farm implore the typical etiquette about masks and distance but also request that customers not touch the food, refrain from lingering, and be especially kind and patient.

Since the Murray Park Farmers Market is food only, it opened the last week of July as harvest time began. Wheeler Farm opened much earlier, in the first week in June, and includes arts and crafts vendors. A renewed interest in home food canning and freezing has made bulk purchases of products in high demand at the Farm Bureau vendors.

Unlike at grocery stores, the produce sold at farmers markets ripens on the trees or plants and is freshly picked the day before it arrives in Murray from counties across Utah. The market also serves as an incubator for small, local entrepreneurs who may otherwise lack access to capital.

Not all farmers markets in Utah are doing as well as Murray’s. Nicole Knight, manning the Proof Pawsitive healthy dog treats stand, chats with customers browsing bags of beef tripe chips and a bucket of elkhorn chews. “We expanded to Wheeler Farm’s market due to lack of demand in other areas,” Knight said. “Hallie (Matern) has had to come from Erda to open a stand here.”

Specialty items abound at Wheeler Farm, with some stalls exclusively selling pickles, salt and butter soaps, lavender, essential oils, or CBD remedies. Branding himself as “The Hottest Thing in Utah!” James McBeth hawks gourmet hot sauces, salsa, and kimchi at the Z’s Hot Sauce and Marinade booth.

According to McBeth, the Wheeler Farm market improved when the county moved the vendors from the parking lot to the large lawn space south of the event barn. “It’s much nicer out here on the lawn,” McBeth said. “I stopped coming three years ago, but now it is by far the nicest.”

Murray has three days of farmers markets each week. Murray Park Farmers Market runs Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. until the last week in October. Wheeler Farm’s Sunday Market runs Sundays (of course), 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., also until October.