First day of Marco Island Farmers' Market: delicious food, fresh produce and mask wearing

The Marco Island Farmers' Market started Wednesday like it does every other year with delicious food, fresh produce and colorful flowers, but there was something new. All vendors and the majority of patrons were wearing masks.

Kathy Anderson from Tampa said the market was a great experience while she was waiting in line to buy crab cakes, entrees and desserts. She has a timeshare on Marco and goes to the market every year. 

"People are being respectful of the COVID," she said, referring to the fact that most people were wearing face coverings and keeping physical distance from each other to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Amanda Fell with Angelic Desserts helps her customers at the Marco Island Farmers' Market, Wednesday, Nov. 18, at Veterans' Community Park on Marco Island.

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June Valiante, a Marco resident, said it was wonderful to be back at the market. She picked up some flowers. Valiante said most people were wearing masks and doing physical distancing.

"Everybody is doing a great job," she said.

Lauren Kresnye from Wisconsin said she felt good because most people were wearing masks "to be safe and stop the spread of the virus." She recommended the tea, bagels and popcorn shops.

Anderson, Valiante and Kresnye were wearing masks.

Carrots sold at the Aurora Fresh Produce stand at the Marco Island Farmers' Market is pictured, Wednesday, Nov. 18, at Veterans' Community Park on Marco Island.

Samantha Malloy, manager of the city's parks and recreation department, said the majority of people wore masks. In September, Malloy proposed making mask wearing mandatory at the market but City Council directed her department to make it optional.

The city put signs throughout Veterans' Community Park encouraging people to not touch products, stay 6-feet away from each other, wear a mask and wash their hands.

"I want us to be active and do things but in order to do that I'm OK wearing a mask," she said.

Amer Salama creates a gyro pita wrap at the Marco Island Farmers' Market, Wednesday, Nov. 18, at Veterans' Community Park on Marco Island.

This was the first time patrons could pre-order by calling or emailing participating businesses, part of the city's effort to avoid crowds and prevent the spread of the virus. A list of vendors with their contact information can be found on the city's website.

"It will help with the people being able to social distance," Malloy said last week.

Malloy said the vendors she has spoken with have welcomed these and other new safety measures, and that some have been following similar precautions at other farmers' markets.

Diego Velasquez, manager of Anita's Guacamole, said he only received two pre-orders as of 11:30 a.m. They specialize in vegan products like fresh guacamole and salsa, including their new mango salsa.

"We have been extremely busy (but) I don't think people like that method," Velasquez said. "They rather just come out."

Community members browse the various stall at the Marco Island Farmers' Market, Wednesday, Nov. 18, at Veterans' Community Park on Marco Island.

Other safety measures include the elimination of the large food tent where people would sit down to eat, Malloy said.

The city also reduced the number of booths from 100 to 71 and only allow prepared food to be served to go. Some vendors, who were required to wear masks, occupied two booths.

Dr. Jayanta Gupta, assistant professor and director of the public health program at Florida Gulf Coast University, said in September that people should wear a mask indoors and outdoors if there is a possibility they will come in close contact (6 feet or less) with people who do not live in their household.

Gupta earned a Ph.D. in epidemiology (environmental health) from University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 2008.

Gupta said even people who are not showing symptoms like fever, cough or fatigue can still spread the virus and should wear a mask to protect others.

"When you wear a mask, we want to protect others from my coughs, sneezes or respiratory droplets to (lower) the risk of COVID-19 spread," he said.

"We are all in this together," Velasquez said.

A man wearing a mask grabs corn on the cob during the first day of the Marco Island Farmers' Market at Veterans' Community Mark on Nov. 18, 2020.

The venue of the farmers market will continue to be Veterans' Community Park but it will change sometime in March to Mackle Park once the construction of the new facilities begins at Veterans'.

"At first we had thought it was going to be the end of January but now it is looking like it is going to be closer to the end of March," Malloy said.

The market takes place every Wednesday beginning in November and runs through April. The last season ended early due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The next market of this season will be from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 25 at Veterans' Community Park.

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