From Halloween costume contests to bike nights to first dates, many who have crossed paths with San Luis Obispo have a cherished Farmers’ Market story.

The Downtown SLO Thursday Farmers’ Market, which has been closed since March 2020, will return in limited capacity beginning May 6. This first phase revives the certified farmers’ market with essential to-go items as defined by county guidelines for Certified Farmers’ Markets

The market will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Higuera Street, from Chorro to Osos. The first phase does not include onsite consumption, entertainment and vendor categories deemed “non-essential,” according to Downtown SLO. 

“When family comes to visit or when friends come to visit, [the farmers’ market] is where you go as a destination with your group,” farmers’ market manager Whitney Chaney said. “Everything we know and love about eating at the market and talking and singing and dancing all that stuff is on pause.”

This first comeback will include familiar vendors such as Garcia’s Tamales, Whalebird Kombucha, G-Bros Kettle Corn, Sasquatch Sourdough, Hemp Shak and Three-Old Girls. Around 25 farmers will also attend the re-opening, alongside about seven vendors. 

“[The farmers] are at the heart. It’s called a farmers market, so we’re really stoked to be able to honor them and really give them the spotlight,” Chaney said.

Steven Hemler, one of the owners of Hemp Shak, said that the farmers’ market brings a “good energy” to downtown and said he is “stoked” that it is coming back.

Jake Pritzlaff, one of the owners of Whalebird Kombucha echoed this excitement.

Restaurant owners are also looking to take advantage of the farmers’ market to purchase the freshest ingredients for downtown staples like Luna Red, according to Chaney.  

The smaller-scale market is designed like an outdoor grocery store. Along with produce, staple goods such as bread, coffee beans, packaged salsa and chips will be sold to encourage off-site consumption. The market’s return aims to prioritize community safety, Chaney said. 

On-site Downtown SLO staff will ensure maintenance of social distancing, and masks will be required for vendors and customers. Hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations will be set up throughout the market boundaries. Eating and drinking must take place outside of market boundaries. 

The market is asking that customers pay with a credit card or exact change to limit contact. There will be at least six feet of distance between each booth. The booths will also be asking that customers point to the products they want, rather than picking them up with their hands.

Local farmers have been participating in small daytime markets in the county throughout the pandemic, so they are familiar with the COVID-19 restrictions.  

“We all have to do our part right,” Chaney said. “Hopefully, our market patrons are respectful of the rules and understand what’s expected of them. I trust in our community.”

The date for a full-scale revival of the lively Thursday night market is projected for June, depending on clarification from county and city officials, according to Chaney. 

The best part of farmers’ markets is their ability to connect consumers to farmers and bring the community together, market manager and Dragon Springs Farm farmer Jeff Nielsen said.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has only emphasized the importance of the local food movement and food system, Nielsen said. In his everyday interactions with SLO County farmers and consumers, Nielsen said he witnessed the power of supporting local markets. 

“I believe that in this day and age, everyone should have access to good, healthy food. Food should be a right,” Nielsen said.

According to Nielsen, farmers’ markets are crucial in the fight for social equality and equity. 

“I’m sure there are students at Cal Poly who are hungry, and if they knew they could sign up and get access to a program to get some fruit and vegetables, I’m hopeful they will do that,” Nielsen said. 

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