By Joe Boyle
The long-awaited opening of the Palos Heights Farmers Market was met with much anticipation as a large crowd of shoppers arrived early and noticed a new landscape to navigate through. The farmers market was supposed to open on May 13 but had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus still exists, organizers have been preparing to open to the public but with safety precautions intact.
The major difference this year is that people can only enter and exit one designated location along 71st and Court. No one can enter the municipal lot from 12217 S. Harlem Ave. Shoppers will be greeted by a couple of volunteers seated at a table reminding them to put on their masks. After walking through the entrance, guests will have to use a sanitizer for their hands before walking through the farmers market.
“We have taken a lot of precautions,” said Lauren Koszola, who serves as the manager of the Palos Heights Farmers Market. “The vendors are spaced at least six feet apart. Everyone has to wear masks while practicing social distancing.”
The area along Harlem Avenue is gated off as well as the rest of the lot. Keeping a designated area to enter with the nearby exit makes the farmers market easier to manage during the pandemic, Koszola said.
“Everyone has been considerate,” said Koszola, who has been employed with the Palos Heights Recreation Department for eight years. “Everyone has been understanding.”
Koszola did point out the farmers market will be held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the past, the market opened at 7 a.m. Koszola reminds everybody that the market will not open any earlier than 8 a.m. The market will be held mostly every Wednesday through Oct. 14. However, the market will not be open on July 1.
When the market opened for the first time on June 17, a large crowd filed through. The guests, eager to resume their shopping at the market, were patient and willing to adjust to the new guidelines. The vendors had ribbons or rope tied across their stands to prevent shoppers from handling the products due to safety precautions.
This was especially true for plants for sale and produce stands. MacKenzie Voss, who was waiting on customers who stopped by the Zeldenrust Farm Market, which is based out of Chicago Heights, said there were many shoppers who came by early in the morning.
“It was pretty busy in the morning,” said Voss, who is in her fifth year working for Zeldenrust at the market. “For a Wednesday market this is very good. It has slowed down a little since. I think some people are still not ready to come out yet. It will take some time.”
While the crowds did thin out later in the morning, Koszola was pleased with the initial turnout.
“It has been a steady flow all day,” Koszola said. “I’m pretty happy with the turnout. We had about 13 vendors here today and we will have more soon.”
The owners of Gracely’s were pleased with the reception they received at the first farmers market.
“We sold out early this morning,” said Robert Rincon, who along with Laura Rincon, owns and operate the business that sells a variety of tamales and provides catering. “We are really excited about today. Right now, we are taking orders for the future.”
The Rincons said that they have been at the Palos Heights Farmers Market for at least eight years. They have always liked the response they have received at the local market.
Theresa’s Selections has been featured at the Palos Heights Farmers Market for about 10 years. William and Theresa Johnson, based out of Country Club Hills, were also pleased how the day went as well. Theresa’s Selections offers a variety of salsas to choose from.
“We have always enjoyed coming here,” said William Johnson. “We have done pretty well and we are taking orders right now.”
Visitors can pre-order food items if the vendors provide such services. This way it moves lines along faster and keeps shoppers safe, according to the organizers.
Some of the other vendors include Martha’s Kitchen that offers a variety of homemade pies, breads and cookies. Lyons Fruit Farm and Greenhouse and the Harvest Table Food were just some of the other vendors.
Markers are placed throughout the lot to remind everyone to keep a distance of six feet from each other. Guests are reminded that there are sanitizers throughout the market as well as at the entrance. Guests are encouraged to sanitize their hands frequently.
No dogs or other animals will be allowed at the farmers market, unless they are service dogs. No consumption of food will be allowed on site and organizers prefer that shoppers do not congregate at any locations during the farmers market.
No hand-to-hand contact will be allowed between vendors and shoppers. Guests should point to the product they desire and the vendor will bag it for them and set it down on the table. This also includes the transfer of cash and credit cards.
Koszola said a lot of work has gone into organizing this year’s farmers market. She is appreciative of this year’s sponsors that include: Link Up Illinois, Palos Health, Trinity Christian College, CNB Bank & Trust, Legacy Insurance Enterprises and Palos Dentistry, PC, with Richard Facko, DDS, MS.
“I think everything is going well,” Koszola said. “I think people are just happy to be here.”