KEARNEY — Even in these stale times of a pandemic, the Kearney Area Farmers Market is keeping it fresh with locally grown foods.

This Saturday, the farmers market will open in its usual location at the Hilltop Mall, but with safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

To promote social distancing, customers are encouraged to “shop with their eyes” and not touch the produce.

“In light of COVID this year, kind of a marketing angle for the market will be to help people view it as an outdoor grocery store,” said Kristen Winchester, manager of the farmers market. “One of the big changes they will see is that there will be 10 feet between each of the stalls. It helps so that when you can come buy produce at the farmers market, you know that the only people that have touched that tomato are the producers.”

Starting this weekend, the farmers market will be open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays and 2-6 p.m. Wednesdays. The event will operate according to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ health regulations for farmers markets until its last day on Oct. 31.

Winchester said the market also will stay in touch with Two Rivers Public Health Department officials throughout this year’s season.

Approximately 25 vendors are scheduled to conduct business in the safest way possible, she said.

“We will have to pick our produce and put it in their sacks for them,” said Debbie Soderholm, co-owner of Soderholm Farms at Holdrege. “We will wear gloves as we are vending, and after we exchange with our customers, we use hand sanitizer. I’m afraid people are going to think, ‘Oh, no. It’s not safe,’” but our produce and the food you’re going to get here is going to be safer than what you buy in the stores because it is locally grown.”

Vendors will wear masks, disinfect frequently and bag the produce that their customers point at. Soderholm also said that their business has taken a food safety course in preparation for this event.

Meanwhile, customers are asked to uphold the standard 6-foot social distancing expectation while following the arrows through the market’s designated entrance. They also can turn to the Facebook page of the Kearney Area Farmers Market to view in advance the weekly availability of products.

The safety of the customers is being prioritized to ensure the ongoing success of the farmers market.

“It’s an addiction. It just a part of life, and it’s my summer job throughout the growing season,” said Kathy Bishop, owner of Kathy’s Garden and Bakery at Gibbon. “Even though it won’t be the same, there will still be the contact with customers, which are great. They’re a loyal following, and I wouldn’t be at the market without them.”

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