Though details are still emerging, the Oak Park Farmers Market is scheduled to open on Saturday, May 30 at 7:30 a.m. and operate through the last Saturday in October barring any COVID-19 related adjustments made to a Public Health Order issued by Public Health Director Mike Charley Monday evening.
Details of the plan were presented Monday evening to the village board amid tensions over how the plan for opening was developed. The chair of the farmers market commission expressed frustration at the lack of involvement by volunteer commissioners and multiple trustees were critical of the process.
An emotional Cara Pavlicek, Oak Park village manager, told the board, “We’re trying our best.”
Farmers’ markets have been named among essential businesses in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay at home order issued on April 30, 2020. Charley’s order points out local governments may adopt “provisions that are stricter” than those contained in Pritzker’s order.
“People should expect a modified standard market and the addition of an online pilot program with preordering and pick up,” said Cameron Davis, assistant director of development customer services and recently named staff liaison to the Oak Park Farmers market commission.
The order addresses “social distancing and related requirements” for the Oak Park Farmers Market. The order should “serve as a guide for farmers market commissioners” as they work out additional details concerning market operations according to Cara Pavlicek, village manager.
Most notably, the Pilgrim Congregational Church parking lot that traditionally houses the farmers market will be reserved for “vehicular traffic only related to picking up and dropping off pre-ordered farmers market products.” The system for pre-ordering market provisions has not yet been established, but any such program is subject to village approval.
On street parking restrictions will be enforced to allow the in-person market to operate in a U-shaped design south of Lake Street. The in-and-out style market will minimize social interactions with vendors situated on North Scoville Ave., South Boulevard and North East Ave. Market shoppers will line up on the west side of Scoville north of Lake Street in a socially distant line to gain access to the market.
A single point of entrance on Lake and Scoville will allow for a one-way traffic flow through the market with guests exiting on East and Lake. Signage will be posted throughout the market with social distancing and traffic flow guidelines.
All shoppers must maintain a distance of six feet from one another, and all booths will be placed at least six feet apart. Reusable bags will be allowed at the market, but customers will not be allowed to touch produce prior to purchase.
Additionally, all open sampling and chef demonstrations will be prohibited during the market. Special events like the corn roast, pie baking contest and stone soup will also be curtailed during the 2020 market season.
Donuts prepared at Pilgrim Church can be sold from the East side of Scoville Avenue The sale of coffee and other items will be prohibited.
“We are focusing on the basics and getting back to the core functions of the market — allowing residents to have access to fresh produce,” said Davis to Wednesday Journal.
In April, it was announced Davis would take over for Charley as staff liaison to the farmers market commission. The staff liaison provides “services and professional input into the work of the commission” according to the village’s procedural manual.
“I am excited to be working with the group,” said Davis, who mentioned via phone the commission would be meeting virtually on Thursday to focus on details for the modified farmers market. Meetings of all village commissions were cancelled in April.
Both Davis and Pavlicek are confident between 22 and 24 vendors will attend the 2020 farmers market as there have been in years past. They have indicated those utilizing SNAP and LINK benefits at the market will be able to continue to do so.
Tensions were high surrounding the farmers market modifications and lack of communication between village staff and the farmers market commission at the village board meeting held May 4.
Laura Lencioni, chair of the citizen’s commission for the Oak Park Farmers’ Market, offered a public comment at the start of the virtual meeting.
“The market budget must not be cut any further and in fact we need to add one or two paid assistants. We have been blocked in performing our duties and responsibilities to the board because we have been unable to meet with the market manager, unable to meet as a commission, and unable to review any plans under discussion,” said Lencioni in the statement.
During the meeting Trustee Susan Buchanan expressed concern about Lencioni’s statement.
“I think it is unacceptable that a chair of a commission needs to come in front of the board in public because she cannot get adequate communication from village staff,” said Buchanan.
“It’s really interesting to me that the commission doesn’t seem to have been involved in the health declaration,” Arti Walker Peddakotla, the village trustee who serves as liaison to the farmers market commission. “It’s really interesting to me that, at this moment, we’re choosing to not value this commission that’s really done a lot of work and has a lot of knowledge in how this market can be run most effectively and efficiently.”
Both Davis and Pavlicek said they had done a lot to communicate with both the market manager and farmers market commission chair.
Trustee Deno Andrews suggested it would be “shortsighted” not to include the commission in decision making and referred to the group as a “productive partner.” He called to get the commission “back online and aid village staff as they have in the past.”
Additionally, Davis announced the paid farmers market assistant position has likely been eliminated for the 2020 market season in favor of utilizing existing staff.
“I have been honest with the chairperson and Colleen McNichols, the part-time market manager, that I right now am not authorizing the hiring of non-essential personnel and I cannot classify a farmers market part time assistant as essential at this time,” said Pavlicek.
Pavlicek, while answering questions, became emotional saying, “we’re trying our best.”
Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb went on to lecture the trustees saying, “Cara has been working every day since March 19, without a day off. And you guys sit here and find every opportunity to go against the village manager who has been protecting our community.”
No famers market commissioners were willing to speak on the record with Wednesday Journal about the 2020 farmers market season.
In a statement Tuesday morning Trustee Simone Boutet said, “A well run market will give Oak Parkers and the Austin community not just locally grown food but hope for a better tomorrow. I am hopeful that the market will operate as close to normal as possible and I know that our staff and dedicated commissioners can help make that happen.”