BENNINGTON — Folks who visited the Bennington Farmers' Market on Saturday got to browse the stalls for the first time since March. They also got an opportunity to try out a hand-washing station that a local professor designed to be replicated for free.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck Vermont, Chris Callahan of the University of Vermont Extension thought about how to encourage hand-washing, which helps prevent the virus's spread. He realized one way was to make hand-washing more accessible when people are out and about.
Hand-washing also figured in his conversations with Bennington Farmers' Market organizers, who were planning ways to keep the market safe during the pandemic. As an extension associate professor of agricultural engineering, Callahan's work includes helping local farmers maintain food safety.
On the morning of May 30, before the Bennington market's drive-thru pickup opened for the day, he finished putting together its first portable hand-washing station. Made up mostly of materials that can be bought at local hardware stores, the setup cost $146. Its automatic soap dispenser, bought online at $35, was the priciest component.
Callahan said he spent about four hours building the hand-washing station. Finding the soap dispenser was apparently also his single biggest challenge given the shortage of cleaning-related equipment.
"This was the most time-intensive thing," he said.
The hand-washing station has several other main components: a tote that dispenses clean water, a pedal that pulls on a cable and opens the spring-loaded spigot, a basin that drains dirty water into another tote, as well as a paper towel dispenser and trash bin.
The goals, Callahan said, were to design something almost anyone could build, use inexpensive and readily available parts, and be self-supporting and portable. The functionality also takes into account users who might have physical disabilities.
And in the time of the coronavirus, it should be operated hands free.
"You didn't have to touch anything," said Helen Little, 84, who came to the Bennington Farmers' Market with her granddaughter on Saturday. "We're always washing our hands."
She thought the hand-washing station was easy to use, except she didn't immediately see the pedal that opened the spigot.
Market vendors also found the portable device helpful.
"It's a good option," said Jacqueline Hassan, owner of Threat Neutralized Bakery, a North Pownal business that sells dairy-free and peanut-free baked goods like cupcakes and breads. If she had to pick up a product that crumbled and fell, Hassan said, she wanted to be able to thoroughly wash her hands.
UVM Extension's Agricultural Engineering Program has publicly shared the hand-washing station's assembly instructions, as well as the breakdown of material cost, on go.uvm.edu/ageng.
For folks who don't want to build the station's frame from scratch, there's a version that uses a ready-made rolling metal cart. This prototype was created by Callahan's colleague, agricultural engineering technician Andy Chamberlin, who tested his design at the Jericho Farmers' Market in Chittenden County.
This version costs more at $186, but requires no carpentry work.
"Our hope is to have others build more of them," Callahan said. "It doesn't have to be exactly this."
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