Some Farmers Market Managers have nightmares about wind gusts and Wizard-of-Oz-style flying tents injuring market patrons or vendors.
The Washington State Farmers Market Association explains, “Many accidents at farmers markets involve windblown tents, canopies and umbrellas.” The organization expects member markets to minimize risks and ensure canopy safety. Their member markets must include and enforce this paragraph in all market contracts, guidelines and vendor handbooks or policies regarding canopy use.
“All vendors who wish to erect canopies (including umbrellas) on the Farmers Market site during a normal period of market operations, including the set-up and break-down period, are required to have their canopies sufficiently and safely anchored to the ground from the time their canopy is put up to the time it is taken down. Any vendor who fails to properly anchor his or her canopy will not be allowed to sell at the Farmers Market on that market day. Each canopy leg must have no less than 24 lbs anchoring each leg.”
The WSFMA referenced a canopy manufacturer that recommended at least 40 pounds per post for a 10’ x 10’ tent and 80 pounds per post for a 10’ x 20’ tent. Umbrellas need 50 pounds attached to the post base. In extreme weather conditions, even properly secured tents or canopies may need to be taken down during a market. Vendors should ask customers to wait a safe distance away until tents are packed up.
Weights should be attached to tent or umbrella posts without creating other hazards. Weights should have soft edges and be securely attached to the bottom of tent posts NOT hung in the air or over customer’s heads. The best weights are strapped to the bottom of each tent post and secured with a bungee to the tent’s top corner to lower the tent’s center of gravity. In a strong gust, even tents secured with adequate weights may be damaged if the weights are not attached to or suspended from the top corners.
Do not use anchor cords and lines, customers and children could become tangled, trip, fall and get hurt. If tether lines must be used, make sure they are clearly visible. Block the anchor point with a large display. Bevan Linsley, Aquidneck Growers’ Market Manager and Cassie Tharinger, manager of Mount Hope Farmers Market agreed on the importance of a “stake check” on market mornings. Tharinger said, “We’re in a very windy spot and tents will blow over if not secured.” She keeps a box of spare stakes and bungee cords for forgetful vendors.
Bob DiPietro from the Rhode Island Mushroom Company said his staff always use the stakes that came with their tents. They install the stakes as soon as the tent is up. Fellow Rhode Island grower James Booth from Aquidneck Farms said “It’s important to make sure the tents are secure even when there is no wind, because you never know when it may pick up. Better safe than sorry.”
Skip Paul of Wishing Stone Farm said he and his team pushes rods into the ground. He does not like weights that can fall on customers and/or make them trip. The Pauls use multiple small tents to create a large vendor booth. “One of our best solutions, since we have four tents, is to tie them together so they resist moving separately.” DiPietro agreed. He uses bungee cords to anchor tents to neighbors.
The Schoolyard Market at Hope & Main in Warren, RI has a strict anchor policy. This market is on a parking lot so vendors use weights instead of anchors. The market manager rents spare weights to vendors who forget their weights.
DiPietro uses special tent sandbags on tarmac. Some nearby vendors use cinder blocks tied to the tent legs. “No matter what method you use, if the wind is really gusty, you have to physically hold onto the tent since they catch the wind like a sail,” said DiPietro.
The Menominee Historic Downtown Farmers’ Market allows vendors to park their car/truck behind their tent. Tent posts must be weighted or attached to vehicles with bungee cords. Front tent posts must have attached weights. Vendors can use purchased or homemade weights. Vendors without weights cannot sell that day. Market Manager Lucy Pier recommends managers talk to noncompliant vendors. Find out why they do not have weights in the first place. Explain where to purchase weights or how they can make tent weights.
Lucy reminds vendors that most states require food vendors to sell under tents to minimize risks of bird waste.
Karen Kinney at the WSFMA said, “Risk management as a practice is one of the best tools we have to keep our customers, vendors and market staff safe and secure and protect our markets from accidents and financial loss. We are all in this together.” Vendors should not count on your insurance to pay for their mistakes. Karen continued, “A proactive, preventive approach is always the best method for minimizing risks and ensuring safety; strong, consistently followed guidelines mean uniform industry standards, keeping insurance premiums down and markets accident-free.”
Learn more about farmers market tent safety from the Washington State Farmers Market Associations (WSFMA) “Canopy Safety 101: Your Guide to Canopy Safety at Washington’s Farmers Markets” at www.wafarmersmarkets.com/resources/canopysafety101.html .