The Cochrane Farmers' Market has announced it will be opening on Saturday, June 6 at a new location with longer hours.

The weekly Saturday "Market at the Ranche" will become better known as the "Market by the Bow" with its move to the spacious parking lot at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19.

The hours have been extended to 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to give people more time to shop. The first hour is designated for seniors and those vulnerable to COVID-19. The hours may be extended further if crowds warrant.

They have also allotted space for a drive-thru pickup zone for pre-purchased items that will be vendor-driven. That opens the doors to those who want to purchase products but are uncomfortable to roam the market. 

Market manager Valarie McCracken says it was a difficult but necessary decision to ensure the market continues this summer.

"As much as it breaks our heart to leave our beautiful park. and the trees. and the shade, and all the lovely environment we have at the Ranche, this year a big parking lot is exactly what we need," she says.

The social environment people love about the market will have to be pulled back this year.

"While we all love the markets for its social aspect, we must remember the reason why we do this is for the farmers."

"The market is so important for them to be able to get their product to the people, so that was really a lot of the motivation of going to all this effort of making this happen."

McCracken and her team have worked with Alberta Health and Agriculture and town officials to ensure they meet all the physical distancing requirements. The SLSFSC parking lot gives them ample room to ensure wide gaps between vendors, plus a large peripheral to control customer numbers.

"We're absolutely committed to making sure that it's a safe environment. We've always thought our farmers were special and valued, and they're even more precious now," she says.

"We want to make sure that when they come to the market they feel safe. We want our customers to come knowing that they're safe, that they can still get access to the local food that, frankly, so many people rely upon over the summer months."

Missing will be the buskers, like musicians and face painters.

"The bittersweet part of it is we've lost all of those lovely community elements, but they will be back."

Unfortunately, they've had to cancel the Historic Downtown street markets this summer. McCracken says they have been focusing on planning the weekly Saturday market, and believe a downtown market edges more towards an event-like atmosphere that the province has banned for the time being.

Over the next few weeks, further details will be announced on the measures being taken at the Farmers' Market to ensure the safety of people.

"I've got plan A, B, C, D, trying to think ahead of what may happen. We're trying to be fairly nimble and be able to accommodate how we see it evolving over the summer. It definitely added some challenges."