August 4, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer (photos courtesy of Hingham Farmer's Market)
The popular Hingham Farmers Market has been operating in a "drive-through" fashion -- with no pedestrian traffic allowed -- in the Station Street parking lot since May, under a temporary license from the town -- due to COVID-19 and on-going construction at its usual Bathing Beach spot.
However, the drive-through model is not sustainable, according to market organizers, who are seeking to revive a scaled-back version of the traditional walk-through market, in accordance with Massachusetts Department of Public Health requirements.
HFM organizers went before the Planning Board last night for a parking determination and a site plan review associated with the "walk-through" request. The board unanimously approved the proposal.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a hearing tonight, Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 6 p.m. about the request, to determine whether to grant long-term approval (through a special permit) to locate the market at its current Station Street location in the official and open space district. Zoom information for tonight's hearing can be found here.
The goal is to accommodate 20 vendors (requiring 22 parking spaces), at roughly half the size of the normal market at its peak. Market hours would be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine.
The market, if the ZBA approves the request, will feature food and food product vendors only, with no artisan wares or music. There would be a one-way shopper traffic pattern and a "vestibule" area outside the market for customers waiting to enter, with social distancing and sanitization measures in place.
Customers would be asked not to touch the products and to pay by other than cash if possible. No pets would be allowed. The pre-order/pickup option would be preserved. A recommendation that only one person from a family group attend the market at the same time would be in place, and masks would be required.
Even with these changes to the normal way the market is run in place, community feedback indicates HFM fans would embrace even a smaller walk-through version for now.
"HFM vendors, many of whom are long-standing participants, report significantly-reduced sales," HFM President Mark Cullings wrote in a letter to Community Planning Director Mary Savage-Dunham and Senior Planning/Zoning Administrator Emily Wentworth.
"While the drive-through model was a practical step for the market to start, we look forward to welcoming back to the market our SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) customers and those for whom this model has been difficult," Cullings said.
Throughout the spring, the HFM has been collaborating with other farmers' markets both locally and nationally to develop and adopt best practices, policies, and procedures.
While HFM organizers hope to return to the Bathing Beach location at some point, nothing is definite at this time.