FAIRHAVEN — This summer’s Huttleston Marketplace could be drastically limited in its vendors and offerings.
At a recent meeting the Fairhaven Board of Health debated with Director of Tourism Christopher Richard, interpretations of state guidelines regarding what can be allowed at the Marketplace during the pandemic.
Regarding food vendors, last year the Huttleston Marketplace was limited to only packaged food products (e.g., jars and bottles) or fresh food prepared before being brought to the site. Food vendors could not make anything on site. Examples from last year, according to Richard, were pre-made sandwiches wrapped and kept in a cooler for visitors, and cups of packaged ice cream made off-site before being brought to the marketplace.
Food vendors need food permits from the Health Board in order to operate at the Marketplace and any other event, such as the Homecoming Fair, which the town canceled last year and is still up-in-air for this year.
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Opening day for the Huttleston Marketplace is May 22. While that is a good deal of time away, and much can change in the next few months regarding the easing of restrictions across the state, Richard came before the Health Board, on behalf of these food vendors, now rather than later. He asked what it planned to do this year regarding allowing food vendors preparing foods on site; he wants an answer for those who have already applied for booth space this season.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. Right now, the community is being held hostage. I understand your frustrations, but I have to say no,” said Thomas Hemingway, part-time Health Inspector, who was not in favor of allowing foods made on site.
Members of the Health Board agreed with this sentiment, citing concerns over giving people excuses to take their masks off in order to consume food.
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Richard explained that the state guidelines did allow prepared foods on site for farmers’ markets last year in Massachusetts and several of them in the region had these vendors at their markets.
“Selling prepared foods was allowable all season last year. I’m not certain why it wasn’t here last year. That’s what I’m looking to clarify,” said Richard, who added that he didn’t press the Health Board on this issue last year due to the staffing issues and turmoil it and the whole Health Department was dealing with at the time.
“At the local level, we can go stricter than the governor’s orders,” said Sarah Dupont, Interim Health Agent.
Health Board member Michael Ristuccia agreed with this stance. “The governor has guidelines. That’s what they are. We have the right to say that is not strict enough. We want to be safer,” he said.
The board also debated how to properly classify the Huttleston Marketplace, and how that affects its capacity limits.
Health Board member Geoff Haworth stated he believed, according to the state’s guidelines, that the Huttleston Marketplace did not qualify as a farmer’s market, but it was instead an event. Guidelines for events are much stricter and currently have a maximum capacity of 25 people.
“You’re selling other things besides food. If it were just farm produce and food, then it would fall under those guidelines. But you’re selling crafts and other stuff,” said Haworth.
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Richard explained he had this debate last year with the Health Department. Besides the Marketplace being certified with the state as a farmers’ market, Richard said that state regulations only require participation from two certified farms in order to qualify as a farmers’ market.
“Everything last year was review by the town. It can have other things. There are actually no regulations from the state saying what can and cannot be sold,” said Richard.
Haworth was worried the marketplace was “going outside the guidelines and what the definition of a farmers’ market is.”
Richard pointed to restaurants being allowed to serve food and have customers eat on-site.
Haworth responded, “It’s a more controlled environment there” at restaurants, and he explained that everyone must sit down at tables to eat and cannot leave the table without a mask, whereas marketplaces run the risk of people wandering out with their food, eating it without masks.
Everyone agreed that circumstances could change by May. Richards suggested to the Board that they continue researching other communities because “they’re having food, arts and crafts, and everything else allowed at them,” this year.
The Board agreed to continue this debate at a future meeting.