ASAP likes to share the stories of people who help us fulfill our mission. This month we’re talking to farmers market managers who have worked hard to keep markets safe and operational during the COVID-19 pandemic. Quinn Asteak is executive director of West Asheville Tailgate Market.
What have been some of the biggest changes in the way the market works?
We’re so grateful for all the markets who helped guide the way during this transition. The biggest change is that we have about one-third the number of vendors. This puts us in a very challenging place financially. It also means we have to do the gut-wrenching job of telling many vendors they can’t come every week. Other big changes are the transition to no-touch payment systems, the new layout with only one entrance/exit, and the need to track capacity. The hardest change is probably not being able to hug friends.
Why is shopping at farmers markets important, especially now?
I see two main reasons—economic and physical health. All of the individual businesses at the market support families and employ folks in the community. This is yet another opportunity for people to vote with their dollars. Who needs financial help more? Big box stores or your local farmers? The other reason is personal health. My food has a huge impact on the way I feel and I know that’s true for most people. Eating fresh, organic food is so important for physical and mental health, which we’re all thinking about right now.
What is the mood around market these days? Are customers and vendors apprehensive? Happy to be outside? Grateful for some interaction even if at a distance?
The first week everyone was a bit apprehensive. We weren’t sure if people would show up and had no way of knowing if people had really read the long list of new safety guidelines. But about 30 minutes into the first market it was clear that everything was going to be okay. We got some weird pushback on the internet from folks who probably didn’t realize all that we put into making the market one of the safest places to shop. But the feedback from customers and vendors who were there was unanimously positive. Everyone was happy to see each other (even if you couldn’t see all the smiles under the masks) and felt incredibly safe knowing we were outside, with ample social distancing measures in place, and an abundance of hand sanitizer. It’s also comforting to know that only one person (the vendor) has touched your food before you. It feels really important to connect with the community and personally thank essential workers—farmers being absolutely essential, always.
What do you think farmers markets need most right now to stay safe and successful?
Supportive customers. At the end of the day a simple “thank you” really goes a long way. I know it’s a bit confusing that all the markets have slightly different rules right now, but it’s so helpful when customers take the time to read the guidelines and show up prepared. Some things folks can do include: Come wearing a mask, have the PayPal and/or Venmo app downloaded on your phone, and make sure to use the singular entrance/exit. If you have the funds, you might consider overpaying a vendor or donating to a market you love. Donating directly to a market like ours helps the bottom line and means we can hold off on raising vendor fees.