A vendor sells flowers at Salem's Saturday Market in 2020. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

The past two years have been good to Salem’s farmers market.

The pandemic left many people searching for alternatives to crowded grocery stores or seeking to get out of the house in a relatively safe setting - and that meant higher sales, said Lisa Sherman, the market’s executive director.

Now, as they prepare to open Saturday for the season, Sherman said the Salem Saturday Market is seeing record interest from vendors.

“We are fuller now than we have been at this time of year in the past,” Sherman said.

The Saturday market is held in a state government parking lot at the corner of Northeast Marion and Summer Streets. It’s run by the nonprofit Salem Community Markets, which also operates a smaller Thursday market in west Salem, and some holiday and special event markets.

The market has historically opened in April, but in 2021 organizers opted to start early in March to give vendors a longer season to sell their wares.

That will now be a permanent change, Sherman said.

“It turned out successful so that was something that everybody wanted to do again this year,” she said.

To compensate for the longer season and increasing extreme heat events in Salem, the market will open at 9 a.m. and close at 2 p.m., one hour earlier than in previous years.

The first markets of the season will be lighter on produce, but several regional farms will be in attendance on opening day, as well as plant nurseries, prepared foods, bakers, butchers and vendors selling everything from gemstones to candles and CBD tinctures.

The market website includes an interactive map people can browse to see which vendors will be in attendance on a given day, and locate their booths.

She said some people who dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic to care for their children also started home-based businesses as a way to supplement their income.

“We have a lot of new vendors this year who are doing things they may not have done if Covid hadn’t happened,” she said.

New additions to the market this year include a goat farm, Sherman said, and some new faces in the food court area after previous vendors left to open permanent locations at The Yard or Fork Forty.

She said the market also plans to launch an emerging farmer program later in the season for kids to sell produce they’ve grown and “get their feet wet,” though details remain to be worked out.

By mid-April, Sherman said some market days will be full, with all 165 vendor spots already booked.

‘It’s crazy in a good way,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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