If there's any evidence move obvious than your itching eyes and throat that spring has sprung, it's the return of the
. This weekend marks the kickoff of the beloved market, which will run every Saturday in Tower Grove Park from 8 a.m until 12:30 p.m. through November 6.
This year marks not only the sixteenth season of the market, it also represents a return to normal — albeit a new one — for the event. After a delayed start and significant adjustments in logistics last season due to COVID-19, Tower Grove Farmers' Market is ready to return in earnest, having spent the second half of last season nailing down health protocols that make for a safe experience for both vendors and guests.
"This feels very springlike," says Dee Ryan, director of operations for the market. "There is this sort of resurrection or rejuvenation with all of the farmers coming back. It's really lovely."
According to Ryan, she and the team have spent the past year figuring out how to safely conduct the markets, and they feel comfortable that they have nailed it down. Tents will be spaced two to three feet apart, guests are required to wear masks and social distance, vendors will only accept credit and debit (with only a few outliers), and the markets will take up additional space in the park, which will allow for people to be more spread apart.
The extra space is welcome, not only because of COVID-19 protocols, but because this will be the biggest market season to date. 150 vendors have signed up to participate this year, with 130 expected to show up this Saturday. Though Ryan admits there may be some no-shows due to potential inclement weather, she's expecting a great turnout.
In addition to making the events safe for everyone involved, the Tower Grove Farmers' Market team is especially focused on making the markets more inclusive. As Ryan explains, she and her colleagues are committed to supporting more BIPOC vendors as part of the market's overall mission.
"The first few years, it was a bunch of old, white farmers," Ryan says. "We want it to look different. We need it to look different. That's what we believe in and what we are pushing for."
The bullish outlook on this season's Tower Grove Farmers' Market is welcome after the difficult last year many of the vendors experienced. Though the market opened in May of last year, turnout was very low, which forced the team to get creative to support the vendors.
"We started the delivery boxes last year when Pat [Patrick Horine, the market cofounder] realized that we needed to do something because people were not comfortable coming out," Ryan says. "These farmers live and die on Tower Grove Farmers' Market, so if only 30 to 50 percent of the normal patronage was coming through, they would really fall apart."
The market delivery boxes, inspired by the uptick in grocery delivery platforms like Instacart, did more than provide a lifeline to farmers; it allowed them to thrive. Thanks to a partnership between the market and local delivery service Eat Here St. Louis, Tower Grove Farmers' Market was able to bring the market experience to people in their homes — something so successful, they plan to keep it going.
For those who are comfortable enjoying the market experience in person, Ryan says to expect the feel to be like a marriage of last summer and markets past. In addition to the vendors, food trucks will be located on the other side of Center Cross Drive and a row of adult beverage offerings, dubbed "Booze Alley," will add to the festive — and, Ryan stresses, safe — vibes.
"This is such a community event," says Ryan. "The fact that our community comes with masks on, practicing social distancing and respecting everyone is really magical. Because of this — and things like the delivery boxes — we've been able to help our vendors not only survive, but thrive. That means everything to us and is why we do this."
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