The state's farmers markets have a green light for their 2020 season.
Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen confirmed that farmers markets are exempt from Gov. Walz's executive order for the partial closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars. Farmers markets are considered similar to grocery stores and may remain open during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some restrictions apply. Vendors are banned from offering food sampling and on-site food consumption. Markets are also required to have hand-washing stations accessible to all customers, and they must create plans for social distancing.
"Farmers markets are vital access points to healthy foods, and it's important for farmers markets to stay open," said David Kotsonas, director of the St. Paul Farmers Market. "We're really encouraged by the Department of Agriculture's agreement that we are points of access for local foods."
At the height of the growing season, Minnesotans are served by several hundred farmers markets. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Farmers Market Coalition, the nation's farmers markets generate $711 million in sales annually.
The St. Paul Farmers Market spends the winter with some vendors in its outdoor location while others congregate indoors across the street at the Market House Collaborative.
Starting this Saturday, all vendors will be at the outdoor market. Kotsonas estimates that 25 vendors will be in attendance.
"We've had strong support from vendors," he said.
The market, located at 290 E. 5th St. in Lowertown, will open at 8:30 and run to 1 p.m. Kotsonas is reserving the first hour for elderly and other at-risk shoppers.
Several Twin Cities farmers markets canceled their indoor markets last weekend.
The Minnesota Farmers' Market Association is working with markets to develop online ordering and payment systems and curbside pickups.
On Saturday, the Mill City Farmers Market is one of two state farmers markets conducting a pilot program of this setup, at the Mill City Museum, 704 S. 2nd St. in Minneapolis. Go to millcityfarmersmarket.org for more information.
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib