After an unprecedented closure, La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market is back open for business, modified to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
The market — held every Sunday rain or shine for almost 22 years along upper Girard Avenue — closed March 15 and March 22 due to coronavirus concerns. However, market founder Sherry Ahern, along with market manager Julie MacDonald and the market team, have been working hard since the closing, bringing an abridged version March 29 to positive community reception.
“All farmers markets on city streets have been shut down throughout the state,” Ahern told La Jolla Light. “But after the farmers markets were classified as ‘essential businesses’ by the Department of Environmental Health, the Open Aire market team worked with the school district (since it operates on the grounds of La Jolla Elementary School) going through multiple checks using appropriate channels, to get the market back up and running. The school district didn’t allow it lightly. We are following all their rules, as we are on their property.”
The market donates all its proceeds to La Jolla Elementary School to fund campus improvements and programs.
The “new” market, looks and feels a bit different from the original, MacDonald added. “Our entire team is enforcing strict social distancing guidelines and heightened health and safety standards. There are about 35 vendors (down from the usual 150) and no artisans, seating areas or entertainments.
“We’re operating on a much smaller scale. We have produce, eggs, meat, seafood, honey and other prepackaged grocery items.
“In addition, the vendors now feature no-touch shopping — our farmers will bag your produce for you, and many of them offer prepackaged items and boxes to go.
“To further reduce the risk of contamination, vendors are encouraging electronic payments over cash, and many are cashless.
“All booths have a hand-washing station, with additional hand-washing and sanitizer stations throughout the marketplace.
“We feel that now more than ever, it’s critical to supply our community with nutrient-rich foods to support a healthy immune system. Supporting our local farmers and small businesses means you’re getting fresh fruits and vegetables picked the day prior that hasn’t been touched by multiple hands along the way. We think this market is a safer alternative to a grocery store.”
Ahern added: “This keeps the farmers in business. This is their livelihood. Most of them do 25-50 markets a week, which have all been closed. What would we do without our local farmers?”
Following current social-distancing protocols, the market has shifted its location slightly. It’s now on the grass outside the LJES auditorium facing Girard Avenue, and spreads south onto the staff parking lot and the astro turf outside the school’s fence.
“Within this space, vendor booths are spaced six feet apart — with extra tables, tape and rope across the front to make sure appropriate distancing between customers and products occurs,” MacDonald said.
“There is a lot of signage, one way in and out, and we limit the number of customers shopping at a time to eliminate clustering. We are also requesting only one member from each household attends, and we’re making it very clear to both vendors and customers to please only attend the market if you are in good health.”
Furthermore, following the most recent City edict, MacDonald said: “All vendors will be wearing masks, and customers are encouraged to do so as well.”
After the reopening on March 29, Ahern reported an overwhelming positive response.
“This market is a piece of home. It’s something familiar I can go to that makes me feel good,” she said. “Many people commented on how unbelievably safe we are and how strict the new regulations were.”
MacDonald agreed: “Everyone is taking the new safety rules seriously, and it’s heartwarming to see how grateful our community is to be able to get the healthy foods they need to feed their families from a safe, outdoor environment.”
The market team plans to keep the current version in place “until this is over,” Ahern said.
•IF YOU GO: La Jolla Open Aire Market runs 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each week on Sundays at the corner of Girard Avenue and Genter Street on the grounds of La Jolla Elementary School. Typically closed for Easter, it will remain open this Easter (April 12). For a list of vendors — including those who will deliver if you are unable to get to the Market — visit lajollamarket.com