Farmers markets in Reno and Sparks have always been a time to enjoy the warm summer months while shopping for specialty products from local artisans, farmers, and vendors. Every year, people look forward to sampling and conversing with others to learn more about the artistic and farm-to-table process. But when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted business operations last year, the farmers market community had no choice but to adapt and evolve. 

Sampling was prohibited, social distancing was enforced, seating areas were eliminated, and employees were screened for COVID-19 before entry. Farmers markets—classified as special events—are required to follow state directives and county health guidelines.

With this in mind, Nevada recently adopted CDC guidance stating that masks are optional for fully vaccinated people. On June 1, the governor’s new directive also plans to open all Nevada counties to 100 percent with no social distancing requirements. Given these updates, market managers are hopeful that community members will feel more comfortable attending events. We spoke with Ann Louhela of NevadaGrown and Shirley Sponsler of Shirley’s Farmers Markets to learn more about what this means for farmers markets in Reno and Sparks this summer. 

But no matter what the guidelines are—one thing is for sure—the culture of farmers markets has grown significantly over the years and is stronger than ever before. 

Farmers Markets In Reno And Sparks This Summer

Bonsai Blue Garden Market

  • When: 9 a.m.- 1:00 p.m. June 17, 2021-October 28, 2021
  • Where: 290 Kietzke Lane, Reno, NV 89502
  • Website

Riverside Summer Farmers Market

  • When: 4-7 p.m., June 3, 2021-September 30, 2021
  • Where: 925 Riverside Dr., Reno, NV 89503
  • Website

Sparks Methodist Church Market 

  • When: 8 a.m.-1p.m., June 1, 2021-September 28, 2021
  • Where: 1231 Pyramid Way, Sparks, Nv. 89431
  • Website 

Tamarack Junction Saturday Farmers Market

  • When: 9 a.m.-1p.m., June 5, 2021-September 25, 2021
  • Where: 13101 South Virginia St., Reno, NV 89511
  • Website

The Village Market On California Avenue

  • When: 8 a.m.-1p.m., June 5, 2021-October 2, 2021
  • Where: 1119 California St., Reno, NV 89501
  • Website

Farmers Markets In Reno And Sparks Are Essential For Growth

Farmers markets in Reno and Sparks represent Northern Nevada’s rich agricultural roots. Nevada produces a wide variety of crops despite its arid climate, including potatoes, barley, winter and spring wheat, corn, oats, onions, garlic, honey, and much more. As one of the state’s most important industries, agriculture contributes significantly to the economies of rural communities across Nevada. 

Shirley Sponsler, director of Shirley’s Farmers Markets, has more than 30 years of farmers market experience and shared how the industry transformed in the last 15 years. 

“Everyone suddenly decided it was a good idea to have a farmers market,” Sponsler said. “We had more farmers markets per capita than any other state west of the Mississippi.” 

Sponsler considers the market neighborhood to expand across Northern Nevada and into Northern California near Watsonville. She explained that Northern California farms contribute a significant amount of fresh fruit like strawberries and peaches to farmers markets in Reno and Sparks. 

Over the years, Sponsler has seen farmers adapt to new technologies to meet the growing demand for markets in the region. 

“A new generation of farmers are using more innovative and sustainable methods to farming like greenhouse growing,” Sponsler said. 

Sponsler has worked on steering committees to ensure participating Northern Nevada and Northern California farmers are certified organic. As many community members attend markets for fresh produce, clean growing practices must be followed. More farmers are attending markets and creating more growth opportunities for the community, Sponsler said.

“Markets bring more than 30 jobs to the region every year,” she added. 

COVID-19 Disrupted Market Life Last Year

Farmers markets are social environments for people to listen to live music, sit down with friends and family members, and enjoy the sweet fruits of summertime. 

But not last year. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic hugely impacted how people interacted with each other. 

“We went from an organization that encouraged socializing to enforcing social distance requirements,” Sponsler said. “If we didn’t comply, then we’d risk getting shut down.” 

Farmers markets in Reno and Sparks had to follow strict guidelines from state and county health officials to reduce the risk of transmission between staff and customers. This created a significant economic impact because market managers needed to implement the required measures with little time and resources. 

Sponsler shared how it was nearly impossible to find sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment for the Tamarack Junction and California Ave markets.

“It was like the black market,” Sponsler said. “We bought more than 200 sets of gloves, masks, and many other supplies that we never had to buy before.” 

While market managers were scrambling to prepare for service, many farmers had to find new ways to sell maturing crops meant for the restaurant business. 

NevadaGrown is a nonprofit organization that partners with local restaurants to help provide healthy and sustainable food options to the community. Ann Louhela, the president of NevadaGrown, shared how COVID-19 impacted the restaurant industry and some farmers more than others. 

“Northern Nevada farms with restaurant sales got hit hard, and smaller farms were often short on staff, which made it difficult for them to attend markets,” Louhela said. 

Despite the market changes, “farmers were eager and willing to do the markets,” Louhela added. “You can’t put produce back on the shelves—you have to sell it.” 

Prepping For A Fresh Start 

Five markets are scheduled for the Reno-Sparks region this summer, according to the NevadaGrown website. More good news is that sampling and touching produce will be allowed, both prohibited last year. Vendors will need to complete the annual sampling permit application through the Washoe County Health District. 

Given the current guidelines, market managers and directors have regularly met to ensure markets are organized and operated properly. 

One of the biggest challenges market managers face is getting everyone on the same page, Sponsler said. 

“We need to figure out a consistent sampling process to ensure there’s no confusion between staff and customers,” Sponsler said. 

As statewide COVID-19 vaccinations continue, market managers are hopeful more people will attend farmers markets this year. Farmers markets are fun and safe places for people to be outside while remaining socially distant. 

“We’re a family-oriented business,” Sponsler said. “Markets are like small villages, and each one is different.”

Despite the chaos of last year, farmers markets in Reno and Sparks had a successful summer. People were more appreciative and receptive to sustainable products and services, Louhela said. As a result, the community grew stronger and is ready for what the future holds.

At Dickson Realty, our team of local experts knows about the best events, activities, and places to live. To learn more about how to enjoy the Reno/Sparks region, contact one of our Realtors today.