2020 has been an unusual year in every way, including how we access food. At the beginning of the pandemic, many people were concerned about safety at grocery stores and worried about food shortages as national supply chains were strained. This prompted people to turn to local farmers markets as a safer and reliable alternative.
Farmers market managers had to think on their feet to create new safety protocols. Many markets limited the number of customers, shifted to contactless payments, and had new requirements for packaging produce.
“We just make sure that we’re keeping it safe for everyone. Masks are required. We’re doing all of the hand sanitizing with the handwashing station,” says Leslie Logemann, Market Manager for the Transylvania Farmers’ Market.
Like many market managers, she had to completely revamp her plans for the season. In addition to all the usual logistics of running a market, she had to make safety the highest priority.
“I think the biggest challenge in 2020 is just learning how to juggle and learning that you really can’t plan very well. You just have to take it week by week, especially at the beginning when things were changing so rapidly. Just learning how to shift and move and adapt and just adjusting as we go. I think that’s really been one of the biggest things that we’ve done, while still trying to find some fun and some joy in it,” she says.
Luckily, there’s a network of local farmers market managers who have been working together for several years to establish best practices and provide mutual support. In previous years, market managers met in person at a yearly summit as part of ASAP’s Business of Farming Conference. Although the way market managers communicate has changed, the network is more important than ever.
“I think with the COVID concerns that we’ve had, it’s just been dramatically clear that having some time together, whether it’s through sharing information with e-newsletters or through Zoom calls, It’s become really clear that it’s very helpful,” says Mike McCreary, ASAP’s Farmers Market Program Manager.
He says that in addition to essential conversations about logistics and safety procedures, virtual gatherings of farmers market managers also provide much-needed support.
“It’s somewhat therapeutic because it’s been a trying time and there are a lot of issues that need to be grappled with. It’s helpful to have that mutual support from one market manager to another in a group like that,” he says.
One of the reasons market managers come together is to share the lessons they’ve learned that year. In many ways, the biggest lesson of 2020 was collaboration.
“The idea that we really are better off when we put our heads together and spend some time talking with each other to share concerns and share uncertainties as you’re trying to figure out the way forward,” he says.
Leslie from Transylvania Farmers Market also sees this kind of collaboration and connection among customers as they support the farmers they rely on each week.
“I think that one of the things I’ve seen is that when push comes to shove, we’re really resilient as a community. When things get tough, we’re really there for our neighbors. I’m a bit in awe of our customers and vendors because they’ve really adapted and they’ve really continued to show up every week, support the market, keep showing up with their products, keep going on even when it’s hard. I think supporting our local farmers and producers is more important now than ever,” she says.
Many farmers markets are shifting to winter hours or holiday markets. A list of the days and hours of winter markets throughout the region can be found at www.asapconnections.org
Aired November 30, 2020