Open for business: Dubuque’s outdoor farmers market kicks off this weekend

Chris O’Connell looks forward to Saturday, May 1, and the renewal of a weekend tradition during Dubuque’s warmer months.

“Where would you rather get your groceries, outside or in a crowded grocery store?” asked O’Connell.

The outdoor Dubuque Farmers Market kicks off its five-month season with more than 90 vendors setting up stalls Saturday morning.

“It’s been very beneficial for us,” said O’Connell, of O’Connell Organic Acres.

The farm in the Bankston, Iowa, area, will begin its 10th season as a vendor at the outdoor market this week. O’Connell’s farm offers USDA-certified organic meats.

“We gain most of our business through the farmers market,” he said.

Dan LoBianco, executive director of Dubuque Main Street, said the market will open with identical protocols to when it closed for the season last fall.

“We will have on-site food service but no seating. There will be handwashing stations open, and we will be requiring our vendors and staff to wear masks,” he said. “If they cannot keep a 6-foot distance, we ask patrons to wear masks, too.”

LoBianco described the market as a community event that gives a boost to the upper Main Street neighborhood and the nutrition of area residents, thanks to the Double Up Food Bucks program. The incentives program allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to match each SNAP dollar with an additional dollar that must be spent on fresh fruits or vegetables.

“It’s so important, nutrition-wise,” LoBianco said.

His organization has operated the market since the early 1990s, but the market’s roots extend into the 19th century.

“This is our 176th season,” LoBianco said. “Market’s been going a lot longer than any of us have been around.”

The 175th season last summer was challenging for organizers.

“We always open the first Saturday in May, but we opened in June last year (because of COVID-19),” LoBianco said. “We lost some of our bedding plant season because of the late start. We opened late, and we opened with just produce. We slowly added other vendors.”

This season opens without live entertainment — another protocol to ensure patrons avoid congregating in small areas — but LoBianco said organizers hope to reintroduce it later in the season.

“We still want to proceed with caution,” he said.

O’Connell said his farm is prepared for the opening weekend.

“We have it set up. We have freezers set in trailers,” he said. “We have our animals processed at different times every summer, and then, it’s just a case of restocking those trailers.”

O’Connell said the interaction between vendors and customers is the key ingredient to the market’s success.

“The whole reason why we’re doing it is to provide food to the Dubuque community, and the interaction with the customer is essential to our business,” he said.