A year after farmers markets in Atlanta, Brookhaven and Sandy Springs had to temporarily close and some even adjusted to a curbside pickup-only format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their leaders said they’re glad to be reopening and in person again.

“(I’m) extremely excited,” said Nancy Qarmout, executive director of the Peachtree Road Farmers Market in Buckhead. “It’s like a family reunion. The farmers market is where you get fresh produce (and) see your friends in the community, and it’s great we can offer that in a safe manner.”

Katie Kriner, market manager for the Ponce City Market and East Atlanta Village farmers markets and content creator for Community Farmers Markets, its parent company, which also runs four other farmers markets, added, “Even with all of the restrictions and the need to keep our community safe, things are slowly getting back to normal. And closer to the beginning of the pandemic, when restrictions were even tighter, the farmers market was a safe communal space, because it was outdoors and a place where you could safely socialize, even at a distance, briefly. Personally, I got to hang out with my vendor friends and shopper friends once a week and it saved me from those feelings of isolation.”

Last year the markets closed briefly because of the pandemic before some reopened after the governor deemed them essential businesses. In reopening, all the markets have implemented health and safety measures such as encouraging or requiring masks (except when eating and drinking), having attendees eat and/or drink away from the vendor tables, requiring cashless transactions, providing hand sanitizer and social distancing.

The Peachtree Road market, located at the Cathedral of St. Philip parking lot at 2744 Peachtree Road in Buckhead, opened March 6 and will close Dec. 18. It’s open Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Qarmout said the market has 50 vendors each week, about the same as last year, and planned to expand to 60 starting April 3.

In 2020, when it reopened after a brief closure due to the pandemic, it stopped having musicians perform there and banned dogs each week as part of its health and safety measures. This year, musicians are back, but no singing or wind instruments are allowed because of the outbreak.

“We hope to slowly lift and evaluate our modifications,” Qarmout said. “Our first one will be allowing dogs back into the market and slowly allowing other modifications as it’s deemed safe.”

The Sandy Springs Farmers Market, located at City Springs’ City Green at 1 Galambos Way, will open April 17 and close Nov. 30. It will operate Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon April 17 through Sept. 25 and from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 2 through Nov. 30.

Like the Peachtree Road market, Sandy Springs’ aims to increase its vendors this year, with plans to open with 35, up from 25 in 2020, and possibly adding more if space allows. Last year, when the pandemic hit, the market pivoted to a curbside pickup-only format, which forced it to limit the vendor total to 25.

While that move, combined with residents’ outbreak-related fears, meant business declined, one of the market’s leaders said it should bounce back in 2021.

“It is always exciting to look forward to a new season of the farmers market,” said Anna Nikolas, director of signature events for Create City Springs, the city of Sandy Springs’ arts and events arm. “While we will open with the COVID protocol that we followed in 2020, we are planning on an increased number of vendors, live music and events for the whole family as the season progresses.”

The Brookhaven Farmers Market, located at the University Baptist Church parking lot at 1375 Fernwood Circle, opened March 20 and will close Nov. 20. It’s open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Since the market opened, it has had 50 vendors regularly, up from 40 last year, and has a waiting list of 10 more.

In 2020 it delayed its opening by a month to May because of the pandemic, “and by the time we opened I think people were happy to have an alternative to buying fresh local food that was not inside a building,” Director of Operations Christy Murray said.

The market also extended its season by three weeks to make up for the late opening

“Considering the circumstances of everything going on with the pandemic, the 2020 season actually turned out to be a very successful season,” Murray said. “… We are thrilled to be able to continue to fulfill our mission of providing healthy, locally produced food and products to the Brookhaven community.

The Ponce City Farmers Market, located at Ponce City Market, 975 Ponce de Leon Ave. in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, opened March 24 and closes Nov. 17. It operates Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m. Last year the market pivoted to a curbside pickup-only format due to the pandemic.

It has 26 to 30 vendors this year, up from 18 to 20 in 2019. Kriner said though sales were down about 32% in 2020, the vendors who adjusted to having online-only sales with curbside pickup fared well last year.

“But we were able to keep that minimum to keep everyone’s head above water,” she said. “We’re looking forward to getting back to normal. We’ve already seen an increase in sales and foot traffic compared to last year.”

Kriner also said she’s excited Community Farmers Markets has a new market in Virginia-Highland, which opens April 22 and closes Oct. 28. It will operate Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m.

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