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Farmers' market offers open-air shopping alternative

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    People lined up to buy from stands at Thursday’s Elgin Farmers Market. Photos by Julianne Hodges
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    William Parks of Nanny Goat Salsa (right) sells a jar of homemade salsa.

Amid a wave of event cancellations and postponements due to concerns about the COVID-19 illness, the Elgin Farmers Market continues to offer fresh food and homemade products to Elginites—with some new precautions.

After a years-long hiatus, the Elgin Farmers Market started back up in May 2019, returning monthly for Sip, Shop & Stroll. The Elgin City Council approved an agreement between the city and the market in October to allow it to run each Thursday evening either in the Elgin Depot Museum parking lot or Veterans’ Memorial Park.

On March 17, Travis County issued an order prohibiting any public or private community gatherings of ten or more people, as well as shutting down common dining or bar spaces in Travis County. The order does not apply to “critical facilities,” such as grocery stores or pharmacies; under the order, farmers’ markets are considered grocery stores.

“In Travis County, there was some kind of debate about shutting down the farmers’ markets or not, but through a lot of hard work from the local farmers’ market staff, they got a judge to consider the farmers markets as a grocery store,” said Austin Moline, the president of the Elgin Farmers Market. “Under that kind of classification, the markets were able to stay open in Travis (County). As long as the grocery stores are operating largely as normal, the farmers’ markets are being allowed to do the same.”

The farmers’ markets have to implement some new requirements, however, such as providing hand sanitizer and prohibiting table cloths and samples, Moline said.

According to Moline, there are advantages to open-air farmers’ markets, which are less crowded and confined than grocery stores right now.

“It is critically important to keep the local economy supported; a lot of small businesses are getting hurt,” he said. “Our farm has taken a hit on restaurant sales: a lot of restaurants are shut down and no longer buying from farmers. So, having direct-to-consumer outlets is not just important for the farmers, but also giving people another option to get groceries is pretty important with stores running out of a lot of items.”

Moline said the public’s response to the market continuing was “tremendous.”

“We had lines like we had never seen at the farmers’ market before,” he said. “People were incredibly happy to see us there. I think people were really excited that it was still open.”