Visiting local farmers’ markets is a summertime tradition for  Pittsburghers, but COVID-19 and Allegheny County Health Department guidelines are changing how these open-air bazaars operate. Key elements of the experience, including on-site dining, live entertainment and large crowds, are now major no-nos. Organizers of these essential businesses are rolling with the punches to help farmers and small businesses and give residents access to good food.

Bloomfield Saturday Market

On May 9, Pittsburgh saw snow flurries and a record low temperature of 29 degrees. But the winter weather didn’t stop folks from attending the Bloomfield Saturday Market’s season opener.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., about 1,000 people visited the large parking lot at 5050 Liberty Ave., where 30 vendors were set up to sell everything from fresh produce and honey to salsa and tea.

Market Manager Abi Gildea and her volunteer staff spent the day monitoring the capacity (fewer than 100 people occupying the space at one time), enforcing social distancing guidelines and cleaning tabletops, cash registers, restroom fixtures and trash cans.

“We were pleasantly surprised with how well it went,” she says. “It never felt crowded.”

Photo by Elena Shahen courtesy of the Bloomfield Saturday Market.

Since 2014, West Penn Hospital has donated space in its employee parking lot for Bloomfield’s winter and summer markets. The latter operates every Saturday through Nov. 21 and there are typically 40 to 45 vendors and approximately 2,500 shoppers, but organizers cut back this year because of the pandemic.

Gildea’s been planning the revamped version since the stay-at-home order went into effect in March. She attends webinars with other market managers from across the country, talks to food advocacy experts and gathers community feedback through an online survey conducted in conjunction with Lawrenceville United.

Seeing crowded grocery stores, empty shelves and people facing food insecurities motivated her to try and open in April, but it wasn’t in the cards.

She says it’s hard to adapt a highly social event — where people and their dogs would hang out for hours chatting with friends — to a COVID-19 world. She’s making adjustments as she goes (mostly to improve pedestrian traffic flow), but the Bloomfield Saturday Market is setting an example for others to grow.

Lawrenceville Farmers Market

For Lawrenceville Farmers Market Manager Sara Draper-Zivetz, keeping customers and vendors safe is the top priority. When COVID-19 shut down the state, she took time to assess the situation and determined that giving people access to fresh fruits and vegetables, dry goods and specialty items was the best way to respond to the crisis.

The market, a Lawrenceville United program, is scheduled to open on June 2 in Arsenal Park at 250 40th St.

Last year, the market moved its operations from Saturdays to Tuesdays. There are already 23 confirmed vendors scheduled to sell their wares from 3 to 7 p.m. Applications are still being accepted. Once the market opens, the first hour of each session will be dedicated to higher-risk populations such as the elderly.

Draper-Zivetz is also working to set up a delivery service and a pre-order pickup system. Like many others in the area, the market accepts cash, debit and credit cards, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps and Senior Farmers’ Market Program vouchers.

If all goes well, she hopes to keep the market open year-round. Sign up for their newsletter to receive the latest information.

Bellevue Farmers Market

The pandemic has pushed back opening day for the Bellevue Farmers Market from June 3 to July 15. It will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday.

In 2017, a group of community members organized the market in Bayne Park, which accommodated 20 to 25 vendors and a few food trucks each week through October. Market Manager Bryan Davidson says the committee is busy implementing new requirements to ensure safety and potentially find an alternative space since the park is currently closed to the public.

The committee launched the Neighbors Feeding Neighbors program on March 14 to stave off food insecurity issues. During its first week, it fed about 30 families; now it serves more than 250. An army of volunteers prepares and packages meals three days a week at Assumption Catholic Church and delivers them to homes throughout the borough.

A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $13,000 and The Pittsburgh Foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to the Neighbors Feeding Neighbors program.