Shoppers visiting the Andersonville Farmers Market can now bring furry friends and touch products before making their purchases. Masks, social distancing and the use of sanitizer are still required though.
Lively violin music played as dozens of shoppers strolled in the sunlight between two rows of tents, taking in the sights and smells of street food, soups, spices, sweet treats like donuts and baklava, and fresh produce.
On Wednesday, the Andersonville Farmers Market opened for its 12th season and its second year operating during the pandemic.
Kayla Taylor, an employee at First Slice Pie Cafe, said she is excited to be selling pastries now that conditions are less frightening.
“People feel safer outside and everyone can come together and talk and feel good,” Taylor said.
Joan Oberndorf, the manager of Andersonville Farmers Market, said this year the city is allowing up to 135 customers to enter the market at one time, an increase of 40% from 2020’s capacity. Also, dogs are now allowed back in the market space and shoppers will able to touch the products they plan to purchase.
She said everyone at the market is required to wear a mask and social distance, and hand sanitizer is located at booths and entrances for visitors to use. Despite the slightly loosened restrictions, Oberndorf said there is still no eating or drinking allowed inside the market.
Oberndorf said the farmers market has a total of 26 vendors, with several shops selling at the market every other week. The market will also have a weekly spotlight space for local merchants and artisans.
Melinda Subido and her daughter Kristine, the co-owners of Pecking Order, a Filipino cuisine catering brand, said they have been selling at farmers markets for the past eight years, relying heavily on the sales from the Logan Square and Andersonville markets.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Melinda Subido said the duo have lost 80% of their annual revenue to a drop off in sales and added expenses.
Pecking Order used to serve its food hot, but due to safety guidelines, Subido said everything is now sold frozen or chilled in microwavable containers.
“Before, most of the time people [would] go around and eat,” Subido said. “It’s more fun. The sense of smell makes it more exciting.”
Jasmine Sheth, founder and chef at Tasting India, a weekly meal delivery service focusing on different Indian regional cuisines, began the business a year ago after she was laid off from work due to the pandemic.
Sheth said the brand is POC and female-owned and aims to break stereotypes by shining light on lesser known Indian cuisines. Tasting India also creates its own spice mixes, including masala chai, cardamom coffee, goda masala and East Indian masala.
“There’s so many people that order my menus every week that I don’t get to meet because of COVID-19,” Sheth said. “This is a nice opportunity to showcase the breadth of what we do beyond the weekly menus, talking about the spices and influences from India.”
Virgil Roundtree, founder of Downstate Donuts, which sells donuts made from potatoes and organic ingredients from local farms, said the company was essentially launched though farmers markets more than 2 years ago.
He said although business has been tough during the pandemic, the business was able to quickly pivot to an online delivery system and selling using carts.
“Events, catering, things of that nature—which were a huge driver for the business—evaporated pretty quickly,” Roundtree said. “So we had to get very intuitive in figuring out ways to reach our customers directly.”
Located on Catalpa Avenue between Clark Street and Ashland Avenue the Andersonville Farmers Market will be open from 3 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday until October 20. Entry from 3 to 3:30 p.m. will be reserved for visitors over age 60 or who are at increased risk for contracting COVID-19.
The farmers market still offers a hybrid shopping experience, with the option to visit the market in person, or order from vendors online for pick-up on Wednesdays. Customers can pre-order items from Thursdays at noon through Mondays at 11 p.m. using the WhatsGood app or website.
Elizabeth Ewing, an Andersonville resident who came to the farmers market with her four-year-old son Van III, said she shops there every year “no matter what” to support small businesses with sustainable practices.
While dodging her son’s pleas for more of his chocolate potato donut, Ewing said she feels safe going to the market because guidelines are in place.
“You get the freshest vegetables that haven’t been on trucks or gone across the world,” Ewing said. “You never know when you might really need to have options other than traditional stores for food, so it’s good to have these connections and relationships.”