VENTNOR – The city’s summer Farmers Market is planning to open Memorial Day weekend, but shoppers will notice many changes, new regulations and fewer vendors amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Ventnor Farmers Market Managers Andy and Penni Starer and Maria Gatta of Red Room Café have been meeting with county and city officials and plan to open the market on Friday, May 22 with a somewhat different approach – no entertainment, no crafters, no ‘old coots’ tent and no children’s activities – although there will be plenty of Jersey Fresh produce and food vendors, they said.

“We are in the process of formulating new guidelines based on the county’s revised regulations,” Penni Starer said Thursday morning.

A week ago, Andy Starer informed the Ventnor Board of Commissioners that Atlantic County Division of Public Health was not reviewing vendor applications. However, since then, the county has started reviewing and issuing annual licenses to food vendors, they said.

Because they sell food, farm stands are considered essential businesses, but farmers must incorporate social distancing guidelines, such as installing vapor shields to protect workers.

“They sent us guidelines providing information on how to run the market this year and keep everyone safe,” Penni Starer said.

Starer said the market will have a marked entrance and exit, and a one-way shopping line. They will regulate the number of shoppers allowed into the market to purchase products from approximately 20 vendors, which includes six major farmers and various artisan food vendors, but at this time, food trucks are not allowed.

Vendors will place an additional long table in front of their product table to further distance vendors and customers. All prepared foods will be packaged “to-go” only. Vendors who handle food or produce will be required to have a designated money handler.

Starer said the team met with Ventnor special events Coordinator Donna Peterson, Police Capt. Joseph Fussner and Fire Inspector Tom Halpin, who are all on-board with the market team’s plans.

There will be a somewhat enclosed outdoor area at St. James Church, washing stations for the general public and at every vendor spot, proper signage showing the entrance, exit and shopping lanes. Everyone will be asked to adhere to the CDC’s 6-foot social distancing recommendation, and market volunteers will control the number of people shopping – estimated at three per vendor – at any one time. No sampling, touching or smelling products will be allowed.

“It’s a moving target,” she said. “We’ll open, see how it plays out and make changes if we have to.”

One thing that’s undecided is if the market can require customers to wear face masks, she said.

“There is no regulation that says you have to wear a face mask, but we highly encourage it. I think once people are inside the market, they will feel a lot safer if everyone is wearing a mask,” she said.

Starer said she has been in touch with some of the regular vendors, who have indicated the county has approved their licenses for this year.

On the first day of the market, county inspectors will review the setup and ensure all vendors are abiding by the guidelines, “if not, they can shut us down,” Starer said. “We feel the Health Department will be looking at us to see what other markets can do to make shopping safe for everyone.”

June Martin, who manages the Margate Community Farmers Market at Steve & Cookies By the Bay, said they still don’t know if and when the market will open.

“We have a Zoom call this morning to discuss it,” she said. “We’re working on it and doing our research on what other markets are doing to find out what’s best for us.”

“This is all new to us,” Starer said. “Things can change, but we want our customers to know what to expect when they come.”

Starer said she would love to see things go back to “normal” someday, but doubts it will anytime soon.

“Things won’t change until there’s a vaccine,” she said.

Commissioner Lance Landgraf commended the team’s efforts to get the market up and running amid the turmoil of the coronavirus shutdown.

“This is not what we all wanted, but it gets us something. It gets us fresh produce in the community. Hats off to you for sticking with it,” Landgraf said about the market team’s plans for this summer.

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Categories: Downbeach

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.