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Vendors ready for return to Cowlitz farmers market with COVID vaccines, safety precautions
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Vendors ready for return to Cowlitz farmers market with COVID vaccines, safety precautions

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For the first time in five years, Alissa Lee did not sell her bite-size donuts at the Cowlitz Community Farmers Market in 2020.

Last season, Lee took a break from The Baker’s Dozen stand to protect herself and loved ones from the airborne coronavirus.

“I care for my mom and a couple other older people,” Lee said. “I just didn’t need to put myself out there.”

Owner Teresa McKee pots begonias in hanging baskets at Buds & Blooms Nursery on Thursday, April 8. Teresa and her husband, Jon McKee, will return to the Cowlitz Community Farmers Market when it reopens on April 17.

This spring, Lee is fully vaccinated and returning to the market. She plans to wear a mask when selling her miniature cake donuts, which come in flavors like powdered sugar and chocolate with sprinkles.

“People are getting their shots, wearing their masks,” Lee said. “Most everyone seems to be more cautious.”

The Cowlitz Community Farmers Market reopens from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 17 in Longview. Patrons can stock up on locally produced merchandise from foods, like breads and produce, to crafts, like candles and woodwork, in the open air of the Cowlitz County Event Center parking lot.

Farmers Market Manager Laurie Kochis said patrons approve of the open ventilation during the pandemic.

“People feel so much safer at the market than being clustered in a store,” Kochis said.

Handwashing stations are located throughout the market, she added, and both vendors and attendees are required to wear masks and distance.

Kochis, who also operates Homer Bread, said from 2019 to 2020, the market increased in both vendors and sales, despite the pandemic.

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She expects an average of about 60 vendors and roughly 300 guests each Saturday through Oct. 30.

A market also is held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays from May 4 through Sept. 14 at the event center. Kochis said slightly less people attend.

Many vendors accept cash, debit and credit cards as well as vouchers for benefits given to people with low incomes, including SNAP and WIC.

Teresa McKee, who owns Buds and Blooms Nursery in Kelso, said she has sold flowers and produce starters at the farmers market for about 25 years.

Last year, McKee and her husband only set up for a few shifts. Sales were so strong at their Kelso nursery they couldn’t be pulled away.

McKee estimates Buds and Blooms Nursery revenue increased by about 30% last year. She said many patrons were newcomers looking for a pandemic-proof hobby like gardening.

“We got a lot of new people who’d say they’ve never done this before,” she said. “I’d walk them through a little bit on sun versus shade, ask them what the ground is like.”

McKee said her business started about three decades ago as “a hobby that went out of hand.” While the pandemic proved to be beneficial, the last economic crisis did not.

After the downfall of the Great Recession around 2009, McKee had to close the shop for three years because she said people couldn’t afford little extras like plants.

“People didn’t have the money. I got it,” she said. “It was tough on us, too.”

This year, Lee, Kochis and McKee all look forward to reuniting with customers at the market, both for the sales and social interactions.

“I’m looking forward to going back,” said McKee. “I’m anxious to see everyone I never get to see except for maybe once a year.”

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