Hot days, fresh peaches, juicy watermelon and sweet corn are all part of the summer farmers market season.
Celebrate the height of the season during National Farmers Market Week Aug. 2-8. The week observes the importance of markets in providing fresh, locally grown foods for their communities.
“Virginia’s theme this year is ‘Farmers Markets are Local Food Superheroes,’” said Kim Hutchinson, executive director of the Virginia Farmers Market Association.
Hutchinson said the superhero theme was inspired by the resiliency farmers market managers have shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The farmers, producers and market managers have been so flexible and so phenomenal during this time,” she said. “The passion to provide nutrient-dense, locally grown food to the community has truly been mission-driven.”
It hasn’t been easy, Hutchinson said. Throughout the spring and summer, farmers markets have hustled to adapt to frequently changing state regulations. Many have incurred costs associated with installing hand-washing stations, buying personal protective equipment and setting up health-related signage.
And while markets are still “low-touch, no-touch,” things have loosened up slightly now that Virginia is in Phase 3 of its pandemic response. Masks are required, and social distancing is in place, but markets may have live music, and artisans, crafters and food vendors are now allowed to sell their wares.
“You can walk through the market eating your sausage biscuit and kettle corn, and drinking your coffee,” Hutchinson explained.
Although many are opening, each market operates based on what’s best for its community, Hutchinson noted. Some are in Phase 3, while others are staying in Phase 1 or 2.
Deb Matthews, president of the Loudoun Valley Homegrown Markets Cooperative, said they’re allowing more people in the market, and volunteers are available to pick up customers’ prepackaged orders and deliver them to their cars.
“People are feeling safer, and we’ve gotten a lot of really great feedback on how we’ve conducted the markets,” Matthews said.
And business is booming. “Sales have been anywhere from two to four times where they were last year – in some cases, eight to 10 times what they were in previous years,” Hutchinson said.
Many customers are still placing orders in advance through online ordering platforms – something markets and producers plan to continue offering after the fall, when many markets typically close.
Whitney Perkins, commodity specialist with Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said ecommerce solutions such as Lulus Local Food are another way producers and farmers markets can continue weathering the pandemic.
“Producers and markets are able to meet consumer needs, use this opportunity to continue connecting with those in their community, and don’t see a loss in sales,” she said.
- Submitted by Kim Hutchinson