Taos Farmers Market opens with drive through; customers buy out bags

By Staci Matlock
Posted 5/16/20

Last minute changes that limited Taos Farmers Market to drive-through only on the historic Taos Plaza didn’t deter shoppers anxious for opening day.

They lined up in their vehicles at the …

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Taos Farmers Market opens with drive through; customers buy out bags


Last minute changes that limited Taos Farmers Market to drive-through only on the historic Taos Plaza didn’t deter shoppers anxious for opening day.

They lined up in their vehicles at the east entrance of the Taos Plaza at 8 a.m. Saturday (May 16) and by 9 a.m. all 100 paper bags of presorted and packaged produce had sold, according to market manager Sierra Heberg. 

The town and the market's board had been meeting for the last few weeks to come up with a plan for how to open the market but keep customers and vendors safe and abide by state health orders meant to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus. 

“The farmers market as an entity considered moving to a field, somewhere privately,” Heberg said, noting they still ran the risk of being shut down if they didn’t meet the state health emergency orders. 

Earlier in the week, the market announced it would reopen Saturday for walk-through shopping with restrictions in place such as masks required for vendors, booths set 8-10 feet apart and customers urged to stay six feet from each other. Hand-sanitizing stations were to be set up and shoppers were not to handle produce. Masks for shoppers were encouraged but optional.  

Farmers were already out in the fields and greenhouses harvesting produce for the Taos market when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced some new restrictions late Friday afternoon, Heberg said, including a requirement that everyone wear masks in public. 

“We had a plan, we had everything measured out. We met with the town [officials] last night and they said ‘no, it’s not good enough because of the governor’s new parameters,” Heberg said. “We were freaking out because the farmers were already harvesting. So we bought the produce, as the farmers market, and the town said they would buy whatever didn’t sell and give it to the food banks. But they didn’t have to. We sold out fast.”

In a joint press release Friday night, the town and the farmers market board said they had been “working diligently together to find ways to bring locally sourced, healthy and affordable food options to our community while simultaneously creating the safest possible delivery mechanisms for farmers, vendors and, most importantly, the public.”

This was especially important because many people in Taos are senior citizens and people with preexisting health conditions - both groups that are at highest risk for the most severe forms of COVID-19, the disease caused by a highly contagious coronavirus. 

As of Friday afternoon, Taos had 23 confirmed cases of the coronavirus out of 1,640 people tested and no deaths. New Mexico had 5,662 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 253 people had died of complications related to the illness; a total of 124,458 people in the state had been tested.  

“In order to accomplish this, our joint plans (developed in coordination with participating farmers, Town Police, Fire and Emergency Management) call for a number of changes to how our traditional farmers market operates on the plaza,” said the joint statement. 

The governor said the restrictions put in place Wednesday and modified again Friday will remain until at least May 31, when the situation with the COVID-19 will be reassessed. 

The town and market board said rather than cancel the market and risk the farmers wasting their already harvested produce, they chose to make it drive-through.

Heberg said the hope is to iron out the details before next Saturday on how to direct foot traffic, put up sanitizing stations and install safety barriers so that customers could safely walk around the market.  

Town manager Rick Bellis said in emails that the town’s goal has been to keep the infection rate as low as possible and prevent anyone in Taos from dying of the disease. In part, that’s why the town took an early step as the pandemic hit in March to cancel activities and events on town property until further notice and to require a curfew. “I do think that both the timelines and measures we instituted are increasingly being proven to be highly on target, despite being considered by some to be too harsh, too controversial and too long at the outset,” Bellis said. 

While the farmers market is considered among the essential businesses that could remain open under the state’s coronavirus restrictions, it still needed to comply with some of the health orders, such as social distancing and a prohibition on large groups of people. 

“Everything we hear from our businesses, the public and our governmental partners is reinforcing that we should stay that course and I don’t hear anyone screaming that we should exempt any one activity, event or business at the risk of the community,” Bellis said. 

Despite the limited market, the air at the plaza Saturday morning was almost giddy. Shoppers seemed happy to buy what they could, even if it was a few tomatoes, a berry plant or a bag of tortillas made at Taos Pueblo. 

New guidelines that began Saturday allowed nonessential businesses like clothing stores and galleries to reopen Saturday with customers inside limited to 25 percent of a store’s capacity at any one time. A couple of mercantile stores had their doors open for the first time in weeks, just in case a customer walked by.


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