BILLINGS — Downtown Billings will be without fresh produce from the Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market for the 2020 season unless group gathering restrictions are relaxed, farmers market Board President Shelli Gaybert said Wednesday.
“This will be the first season that we’ve had to call off the market as such right now. If COVID-19 changes, we’ll change with it," Gaybert said.
The indefinite postponement in 2020 marks the first time in 34 years that the city has been left without the popular summer event.
Gaybert said after conversations with the RiverStone Health, the city government and the Downtown Billings Alliance, it would have been tough for the market to function under COVID-19 restrictions.
“It just does not seem possible to us. The board deliberated on it long and hard. The board is also members of the market. We all have booths at the market and sell products at the market. It’s going to affect us also and we did not make this decision lightly," Gaybert said.
The governing board of the Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market decided in early June to indefinitely postpone until more people could gather together.
Of the restrictions, Gaybert said market staff would have to track the number of people coming in and out while keeping the total inside around 170. A dedicated entrance and exit would have been established, which would make a long walk to the car for some, depending on where they parked.
Market staff and volunteers would have a lot on their plates if the market were to open under the restrictions, Gaybert said.
There is one Market Master who is usually in charge of blocking off the streets and taking care of any problems. The Market Master, along with a few other staff members, would be in charge of policing the social distance of patrons.
"That’s kind of a lot to ask of a volunteer in a situation like this. We felt, as a board, that we just couldn’t cover it and to be able to get enough volunteers to be able to do that even reasonably would be unimaginable to me because we just can’t find that many volunteers anyway," Gaybert said.
Only family groups would be allowed to browse any booth at a time while keeping six feet of distance from the person running it.
But perhaps the biggest turn-off for some would be that you couldn't touch or smell the produce before purchasing.
"You would not be able to touch it or put it in a bag yourself or even get within six feet of the tables. You would have to be six feet back from the tables. So it’s all very distant. Very hands off. No socializing, everybody’s got to move in and move out. Everybody’s got to stay six feet apart," Gaybert said.
The farmers market board thought the restrictions would be too much to bear this season, Gaybert said. She's still holding out hope that the market may make an appearance in 2020.
“Our hope is, just like everybody else, that we go back to what we know and what we love. If that takes till 2021, we’ll come back in 2021 stronger and ready to go back to what we love. And if not, we’ll adjust for that as needed," Gaybert said.
Until then, Gaybert said there's still a way to support some of the market's 60 vendors.
Some vendors have found other spaces on street corners or in parking lots to set up shop and sell their goods. Gaybert said the Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market will get the word out on the vendors' locations on its website and Facebook page.
“Right now, we just have to find a different way to support our local people and that’s what I’m hoping the public will do. I hope our vendors have an easy time to find a place because it’s going to be tough for everybody. It’s going to be a big adjustment for all of us," Gaybert said.
Two smaller farmers markets have popped up in Billings, providing another opportunity for local produce. The smaller markets are easier to pull off due to their size.
One called the Billings Westend Mini Farmers Market starts Saturdays at 9 a.m. on the property at 3201 Hesper Road. To learn more visit this market's Facebook page by clicking here.
The second market just started up on Wednesday hosted by Evergreen Ace Hardware at 1540 13th St. W. The Evergreen Farmers Market runs from 4:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.