When East Lansing Council member Jessy Gregg thinks about Valley Court Park, she visualizes an outdoor social distancing opportunity that could help some essential small businesses – like family farms – get back on their feet and regain some economic traction, while providing citizens healthy, fresh food and still adhering to the emergency orders that have been in place for the past six weeks.
Over the past decade, the East Lansing Farmers Market typically has attracted about two dozen vendors and a thousand visitors per week. This year, the market has been scheduled to open June 7 but City Manager George Lahanas has indicated he would prefer a delay.
Gregg thinks the market should open.
“My thought is this: If we have businesses that can be operating under the current restrictions, and I think the Farmers Market is one of them, we should facilitate that,” Gregg told ELi earlier this week. “We have the whole park to use, and we could put vendors twenty feet apart if need be.”
“We could station them all along the sidewalk (at the south end of the park), and people could pull up in their cars and get their groceries,” she added. “We could do it and be safe, and it’s an essential service.”
Gregg, a small business owner herself, cited the Allen Neighborhood Center’s market on Kalamazoo Street in Lansing as an example of how to safely fulfill the dual role of improving food access and providing economic support for local farmers and food producers.
The Allen neighborhood market on Kalamazoo Street in Lansing was closed two weeks at the outset of the emergency but has since reopened every Wednesday.
There, vendors are spread out and customers are asked to wear masks, to maintain 6-feet separations, to not touch products they will not purchase, and to “wave hello to your neighbors so they can feel your love through the masks & distance!”
Gregg believes that approach to be smart and replicable.
City of East Lansing Community Events Specialist Justin Drwencke and Market Manager Karla Forrest-Hewitt are reviewing the opening date of the East Lansing market in consultation with City leadership.
“Staff will determine the layout of the market and are currently exploring multiple options for an expanded footprint to allow for physical distancing,” Department of Parks and Recreation Director Tim McCaffrey wrote in an email to ELi today.
“Applicants that have applied to be vendors at the 2020 ELFM have been notified that we are considering a potential delay of the opening of the market,” McCaffrey said, “however, a final decision has not been made yet.”
None of the vendors that have applied for a spot at the market have indicated that they are no longer interested in being a vendor, according to McCaffrey.
“Staff are currently reviewing guidance from the Michigan Farmers Market Association, along with guidance from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and State of Michigan, and are reviewing what changes to market operations will be necessary to make it as safe as possible for community members, vendors and staff.”
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