The Leroy James Farmers Market in Greenville has been deemed an essential business and many in Pitt County are grateful for it.

According to market Manager LaRita Johnson, vendors are doing everything within their power to offer the freshest food to customers as safely as possible, for as long as possible.

A few important guidelines were set into place at this week’s market.

Produce was displayed alongside hand sanitizer. Plastic gloves were handed out for selecting produce.

Vendors wore stickers that, firmly — but politely — asked customers stay six feet apart.

Signs were posted everywhere asking patrons to not handle items they did not intend to buy.

“The Leroy James Farmers Market is classified as an important food source for the community — just like a grocery store,” Johnson said. “We want the community to know we are following guidelines to protect people and to keep from spreading the coronavirus.”

The guidelines asked patrons to not come to the market if they are sick or if they had been in contact with someone displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

It was also requested only one customer per table. No samples were given out.

Curbside pickup was available for those who did not want to get out of the car.

“We are keeping the interests of our community in mind,” Johnson added.

The market requested patrons pay with cards, not cash, since cash has the possibility of passing germs.

Vendors followed social distancing protocol, as advised by Pitt County Extension Agent Leigh Guth.

“We appreciate so much all the support you give us week to week, no matter the weather and no matter the season,” Gurth wrote in an email to regular customers to the market.

“Many of you do this because you already know fresh supply chains are short,” she wrote. “Knowing your farmers not only makes us feel good, but gives us peace of mind. Our Leroy James Farmers Market is such an awesome community and Saturdays are our favorite day of the week to be able to spend time with all of you.”

One vendor’s spot was empty. Many weekly count on fresh veggies from Andy McLawhorn of Renton Garden Market.

He posted a sign in his usual spot that said he would be selling his produce from his farm on N.C. 903 for at least the next three weeks due to the pandemic. He encouraged his regulars to call ahead, saying he would have their order ready, cutting down the time people would normally have for interaction.

“These are not normal times,” McLawhorn said. He admitted he is scared. He especially misses visits from his grandchildren who sometimes help him in his garden.

Vendor Ainslie Guion, of The Farm on Grape Creek, said most all of her customers on Saturday called in their orders of pasture-raised lamb and poultry, making pickup quick and easy.

She said she appreciated the groundwork Johnson and Gurth had done to keep the Farmers Market open.

“They worked really hard with the government for the vendors to be able to stay open,” she said. “This is the only place I sell directly to customers. Ninety-five percent of my business is done here.”

Guion also sells to some higher-end restaurants that have closed their door due to the restrictions placed on eating establishments. She also owns a Bed and Breakfast in Cove City, but she said all of her customers have canceled their reservations, as most were coming for festivals or weddings that have all been canceled.

She is thankful for the opportunity the Farmers Market provides.

Customer Ashley Licari bought tomatoes and greens on Saturday.

“It is probably safer to shop here, honestly, than in the grocery store,” she said. “It is not open all week for people to be coming in and out of. Its open-air. And I like to support local farmers. They are really needing it right now.”

Patron Zoe Tybush stopped by to pick up a jar of salsa she was using on her dinner of salmon that night.

“I really appreciated the stickers they are wearing that say to stay six feet apart,” she said. “I was surprised, but pleased to see they were open.”