Tomball Farmers Market implements social distancing, sanitary measures in preparation of April 11 reopening

The Tomball Farmers Market will reopen April 11 after closing temporarily since March 14. (April Halpin/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Tomball Farmers Market will reopen April 11 after closing temporarily since March 14. (April Halpin/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Tomball Farmers Market will reopen April 11 after closing temporarily since March 14. (April Halpin/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Tomball Farmers Market will reopen April 11 after closing temporarily since March 14 to comply with Harris County guidelines regarding the new coronavirus, Executive Director Michelle Bundy said in an April 9 interview. In the interim, the market launched a Facebook group to connect vendors and customers.

The market, deemed both a temporary event and a farmers market by Harris County, closed initially because the county temporarily restricted permitted events, which includes the Tomball market, Bundy said. However, after receiving written clarification from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's office that farmers markets were deemed "essential" and could carry on within certain guidelines, Bundy said the market staff got together to brainstorm how the market could reopen.

"There's a large safety responsibility that you have when you're one of the largest farmers markets around," Bundy said. "The end goal was to find the best way to reopen in order to serve those that wish to grocery shop from an open-air market and obviously to help our vendors financially."

Vendors will not be charged rent for their spaces this weekend, Bundy said, and no penalty will be charged should a vendor decide last minute to withdrawal from Saturday's market, she said.

"We're not charging them this weekend. To make up for lost time, we just want them to get as much profit as they can," Bundy said.

To reopen the walk-thru farmers market, Bundy said the number of vendors has been reduced from 79 to 25 for the April 11 market to streamline customer traffic and provide adequate distance between vendors. Vendors will set up 10 feet from one another, and the aisle space has almost doubled in width for customers to walk through, she said.

"We truly believe an open-air market is a great option right now. Nothing's 100% safe, but if the community helps us with social distancing when they're shopping, we believe we're going to be an incredible option with the plan we came up with," Bundy said.

Market hours have been reduced to 9 a.m. to noon—ending an hour earlier than normal—and Bundy said she is encouraging only one family member to attend and no pets.

Food prep and consumption will also not be permitted on-site, meaning vendors offering ready-to-eat food will not be a part of the market for the time being. The 25 vendors currently scheduled for April 11 will sell essential food items as well as CBD oil, Bundy said.

Vendors are also required to sanitize their spaces hourly and encouraged to do one or more of the following: take preorders, use contactless card readers, provide a handwashing station or hand sanitizer, or wear face masks, Bundy said.

She said as of mid-day April 9, six vendors slated for the market were only planning to fulfill orders made ahead of time to limit contact with customers.

Vendors have been asked to create their own plan to meet the new requirements, including how to maintain at least six feet between them and the customer. Some vendors, Bundy said, have pitched plans that do not allow customers to touch their products.

With the limited number of vendors, Bundy said most all vendors will fit in a straight row, providing quick, easy access for customers to shop instead of the usual multi-aisle setup.

The three entrances to the market have also been widened to help avoid contact between customers, Bundy said.

Still, customers are encouraged to preorder goods and visit the TFM Online Facebook group, which was created during the temporary closure of the market. The group will continue operating online to help vendors interact with customers during the week, Bundy said.

"We do encourage preorders, utilizing that TFM Online page and preordering from our vendors so people can get in and get out. This is not a time to socialize; it's to get your goods and take them home to your families," Bundy said. "We know that people are ready for us to open because that they think we're the best option. We're going to adjust every week, and we're open to suggestions from the community because we're in this together."

She said market staff will reassess weekly how to conduct the market going forward.

"[We ask] for people to have patience with our market. We are doing the absolute best that we can. We know there are some people that are nervous about us reopening, and we've tried to just think of everything we possibly could to help protect our community," Bundy said.
By Anna Lotz

Editor, Tomball/Magnolia & Conroe/Montgomery

Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor for the Tomball/Magnolia edition. She began covering the communities of Conroe and Montgomery as well in 2020. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.