The opening in the spring of Virginia Farmers’ Markets is a welcome return to normal for farmers and consumers alike.
Last spring, many farmers had to order online, forcing some to set up websites. Market operators have had to develop contactless delivery systems and provide hand washing stations, increase space between booths and limit in-person presence.
Most of these restrictions have been lifted or relaxed under Governor Ralph Northam’s latest executive order regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. But a few remain in place, including physical distancing from sellers and mandatory masks for both sellers and buyers.
“Compared to the same time last year, pre-orders are down, but all the farmers who have had or created an online store continue to take these (orders),” said Ricky Kowalewski, market manager for the Lynchburg Community Market. “We are slowly coming back to pre-COVID attendance figures.”
Charlottesville Farmer’s Market venues customers have had to pre-order and collect their produce remotely since last spring. Market manager Justin McKenzie said his suppliers were eager to return to face-to-face sales.
“It was good for the producers to know exactly how much to bring in” through the pre-order, McKenzie said. “But this year, I see a change in consumption habits. People don’t order so much online anymore. People are ready to shop in person and see the product in person.
Maintenance of restrictions
Adapting to physical distancing is a challenge that market operators have yet to overcome. Another is the refusal of customers who do not want to wear masks.
“With the CDC saying that people who have been vaccinated don’t need to wear a mask, now it’s even worse for us to say ‘You have to put on a mask,'” said Amy Jordan, co-manager of several markets. Hampton Roads. “So we are in a very difficult position. People shout at us for their rights and tell us that we are outside.
Kim Hutchinson, executive director of the Virginia Farmers Market Association, said the governor’s latest guidelines treat farmers’ markets as large, unrelated groups of people; therefore, masks are still needed. The commercial group represents approximately 350 market sites statewide.
” It’s a challenge. A market like Charlottesville could seat 5,000 people on a Saturday, while some smaller markets could seat less than 1,000 people all weekend, ”Hutchinson said. “So many managers choose to keep strict health guidelines in place. We urge our market managers to be very clear about the market rules for each site in their advertising posts and on social media.
On the positive side, there are more customers than ever before, she noted.
“Although sales are not where they were last year at the height of the pandemic, we continue to see 35% to 40% retention of the new customers we won last year in the markets. of producers. Hopefully that will increase as we start to see seasonal items like fresh tomatoes become available, ”Hutchinson said.
What local spring products do you eat most often?