The COVID-19 public health emergency has led many businesses that have large gatherings to postpone or cancel events. For others, like farmers markets, organizers have had to change their operations on the fly. Fortunately, the Amador Farmers Market’s 27th season didn’t start until June 20 in Sutter Creek, so the Amador Farmers Market (AFM) board had time to adapt its practices before starting its 2020 operations.

Ericka Lutz, the AFM Market Manager, noted that safety was paramount for the board as they planned. “We need our vendors and farmers to stay safe,” she said, “and we want our patrons to feel safe enough to shop with us.”

A New Approach

That meant the AFM had to change its schedule for each of its three markets in Sutter Creek, Pine Grove, and Plymouth. “This season, we opened Sutter Creek two weeks later than usual because of the pandemic,” Lutz said. “We are running our Pine Grove market only once a month, but we made that decision before the emergency began.”

Ericka Lutz

If you go to any of the three markets, you’ll find the same format that helps keep people safe. “There’s one entrance, one exit, and a one-way pattern through the market,” Lutz said.  Our booths are spaced further apart. We’ve created physical distancing not only with signs but with marks on the ground.

“We also have a firm mask requirement for vendors and customers, and we offer free disposable masks to people who’ve forgotten theirs. We’ve brought on extra staff, and our volunteers make sure all customers comply with our mask requirements. We provide hand sanitizer, and only vendors can handle products.”

Unfortunately, you’ll also find some past features missing. “All our food is to-go,” Lutz said, “and sadly, we’ve had to temporarily halt live music and eliminate our seating area.”

Even Higher Demand

Farmers markets, like all food suppliers, are seen by the state as essential services, and so they have been allowed to continue with safety precautions outlined by the California Department of Public Health. The AFM also adheres to guidelines set by the California Farmers Market Coalition.

With more people staying and cooking at home, and interested in getting out of the house, it’s no surprise that AFM markets have seen more interest than usual. “We’ve only been open two weeks this season,” Lutz said, “but we’re seeing huge customer enthusiasm and support.” She added that the first Sutter Creek farmers market usually gets 400 to 500 people, but this year’s market brought over 500 people. The Pine Grove market, which usually sees around 75 to 100 people at each market, attracted over 130 people at this year’s first market on June 26.

The growth in interest has led to more interest in vendors. In fact, Luz said, “for the first time in 27 years of the Amador Farmers Market, we have a vendor waiting list, and we’ve had to turn away interested vendors.”

Though there’s a lot of concern about keeping people safe, Lutz said that all the vendors are complying with safety requirements…and customers appreciate it. “We’ve had many people thank us for our stringency and tell us they are grateful that they feel safe at our market.” What’s more, Lutz said that 98 percent of all customers have complied with safety regulations at the Sutter Creek and Pine Grove markets.

Amador Farmers Market

Different Flavors at Each Market

The third farmers market in Plymouth is scheduled to hold its first event on Thursday, August 6, at 5:00 p.m. “At this point,” Lutz said, “we are planning to open our Plymouth market in August on schedule, though we are still waiting to finalize a few details.” You can view the latest schedule and information about all five markets on the AFM website.

The Pine Grove market is co-sponsored by CalaverasGROWN, an agricultural marketing organization in Calaveras County. The Plymouth market is co-sponsored by the Market and the Rotary Club of Plymouth Foothills. The Rotary Club operates the Plymouth market.

AFM is also affiliated with Mother Lode Exchange (MLE), which runs a year-round indoor market at the Chichizola Store at 1324 Jackson Gate Road in Jackson. As of this writing, MLE is only accepting pick-up orders from one of its 20 vendors. To order, click on the vendor tile on the Meet the Vendors webpage, and then order from the vendor’s website. You can pick up your order between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays at the Chichizola Store.

If you want to go to one of the markets, Lutz noted that each one is designed specifically for its community. “The Sutter Creek market is our flagship,” Lutz said, “which is a busy boutique market patronized by locals and visitors to the area. Our monthly Pine Grove market serves upcountry, and this season is on the grass in the Community Park.”

Despite the differences, you’ll also find some of the same vendors at more than one market. Lutz listed Upcountry Farms, South River Lavender, and Amador Olive Oil as examples of businesses that regularly have tables at more than one market.

Lutz added that she and the Market board know how important continuing the annual farmers markets are to Amador County. “While the atmosphere of the markets is a little different from previous seasons, we know that customers still value and crave connection and community. We’re doing our best to provide that.”

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