May 14, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer (photos courtesy of HFM website)
Prior to the much-anticipated May 23 Hingham Farmers Market opening day, HFM organizers are planning an educational blitz through print and social media to familiarize patrons with the new “pre-order/pickup, drive-through” system that will be in place for the time being. All orders will be pre-paid to simplify the process.
The new temporary location until COVID-19 restrictions ease at the bathing beach -- where the market is normally located -- is the Station Street parking lot, where the market first began in 1977. The hours are 9 a.m. to noon.
"It will take a significant amount of consumer education to get this operation up and running smoothly," HFM President Mark Cullings said. One of the biggest changes is that no walk-in customers can be accommodated at this time.
Cullings went before the Selectmen last night during a teleconference meeting to present the new plan, gaining their full support and appreciation for his successful efforts working with town officials to make it all happen in the new world we are living in right now.
"This is a great sign of spring!" said Selectmen Chair Karen Johnson. "The farmers market is so important to folks in Hingham and beyond."
Farmers' markets are considered to be essential businesses, with social distancing and other guidelines in place that were set forth earlier by Governor Charlie Baker.
The way the new system will work is that during regular HFM hours, customers who have placed orders earlier in the week will be directed to drive through the market to their vendors’ stations. Orders will be placed in their vehicles by the vendors.
There's a learning curve to the new system, so be sure to become familiar with it to ensure the best experience possible.
Working jointly with Hingham officials, the HFM has designed a market with up to 10 vendors to begin with -- including, initially, four farms offering produce and four protein vendors selling seafood, beef, and a poultry, eggs, and pork vendor. Pre-market ordering instructions and details about which vendors are participating are available on the Hingham Farmers Market website, www.hinghamfarmersmarket.org, in print media, on social media outlets, and in the HFMarket Matters newsletter.
Police Chief Glenn Olsson says he's confident the new model and location will work. "It's a great setup, with adequate space for vehicles to move through and to allow parking for other area businesses," he said. "We've always had a good relationship with the market. They run a good operation, and I'm sure that will continue into the future."
Signage will direct market patrons in and out of the lot, and maps will be provided to help them locate individual vendors. Volunteers will assist with providing information and with directions and traffic flow. Two detail officers will be on duty on opening day.
Customers picking up orders will be asked to display a sign with their name for easy identification by vendors from whom they have ordered.
Enough space will be provided between the different vendors so that if there is any confusion or traffic slowdown or backups there will be adequate room for vehicles to pull out of the line if necessary.
"At 12:01 p.m. on opening day [right after the market closes], we'll be asking ourselves what did we do right and what didn't work well" in order to fine-tune the process, Cullings said.
Another HFM is scheduled for March 30, after which Town Administrator Tom Mayo said the process will be evaluated "to see how it's working and what world we're living in under COVID-19 at that time, including any new guidelines [issued by the governor]."
"We’ve ordered safety vests for the staff and volunteers, walkie talkies for communication, a porta-potty, and a hand-washing station for vendors and staff," Cullings said. " We also have a supply of face masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves."
The HFM is working with HinghamLink and the Friends of the HFM to ensure there are enough volunteers to help ensure that the operation runs smoothly.
"People learn quickly," Cullings said. "I'm in touch with a number of markets in eastern Massachusetts on a weekly basis. Their customers are becoming familiar with the online ordering platforms, and the demand is going through the roof. This is a sign of the times and an indication of the importance of local farm producers."
Noting the amount of assistance offered by town officials during the complicated reopening process, Cullings said he takes "a great deal of pride in this town. I'm glad to be a citizen."
He expressed appreciation for cooperation from town officials in making this year's market happen, even when faced with complicated and time-consuming COVID-19 related issues. "It's very gratifying," Cullings said.
While at first there will be no pedestrian traffic or on-site sales, eventually HFM organizers hope to be able to move back to the bathing beach parking lot under the usual walk-through model.