Vermont Summer Farmers’ Markets Offer a Sense of Comfort and Connection
May 28, 2020
Vermont summer farmers’ markets may look different this season, but one thing is for sure: local food is more appreciated than ever.
About half of Vermont’s farmers’ markets are open for the summer, and almost all will be open by July (a handful have decided to not operate this season).
For farmers’ market organizers—who were able to rapidly implement new state guidelines for COVID-19—the support from customers has been uplifting in a time of such uncertainty.
“It’s been incredible to see markets adapt to the new guidelines so quickly,” says Jennie Porter, market development manager at NOFA-VT. “Farmers’ markets run on shoe-string budgets with volunteer support, and to watch them radically change operations is inspiring. Customers are showing up, waiting, and being patient. That’s very heartening.”
It remains to be seen how profitable farmers’ markets will be this summer. But in some cases, the early numbers are encouraging. On opening day at Northwest Farmers’ Market in St. Albans, per vendor sales were higher compared to open days in previous years.
“We’ve seen a good response because the community is very involved in our market. About 30 percent of Franklin County residents receive SNAP benefits, and Franklin County is a tight-knit community with a loyal group of customers,” says market manager Mark Montalban. “We were concerned about the season, but the first two weeks of sales have been quite good.”
Pre-ordering and shopping at Vermont Summer Farmers’ Markets
Traditionally, farmers’ markets are places where Vermonters and visitors congregate to eat food, listen to music, and socialize with friends. Food samples are offered, children’s activities are enjoyed, and customers browse and buy vegetables, meat, specialty foods, and crafts.
In the age of COVID-19, there are no musical performances, children’s activities, food samples, or mingling. Customers now go with one purpose: to buy something. Some markets are offering pre-order curbside or drive-thru pickup options, while others are offering a combination of pre-ordering and in-person market shopping.
“The farmers’ market is certainly a different shopping experience, but customers seem pleased to see so many vendors from last year and are able to buy many of their favorite items,” says Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market Manager Meghan Houlihan. “The silver lining is certainly that with so many sales channels closed right now—especially wholesale accounts with restaurants—farmers can do very well at the market. This pandemic has reinforced the importance of sourcing local foods, and our farmers and other local food producers are reaping the benefits from this shift.”
Houlihan says before the market opened, some residents initially expressed concern about whether the market would be safe. But she says customers have seemed comfortable shopping at the farmers’ market over the past couple of weeks. She posted photos and videos on the market’s Instagram and Facebook pages, showing how the market looks this year.
“After seeing the photos and videos, one customer wrote, ‘I must say I’m against opening up yet, but seeing your system gives me hope,’” she says.
Feeling Safe, Finding Good Food
Keri Ryan, market manager for the Capital City Farmers’ Market in Montpelier, says she’s talked with customers who said they feel safer shopping at the farmers’ market than in the grocery store. Like other markets around the state, Ryan says the Capital City Farmers’ Market is making sure it follows strict state guidelines for safe social distancing.
“The farmers’ market is a refreshing place to be. For people who’ve said they haven’t been to a grocery store in months or aren’t comfortable going to public places, this is a safe way to come out and enjoy the fresh air,” says Ryan, adding, “We have everything you might possibly need—except toilet paper. But come here and you’ll find the freshest greens and beef that is grass-fed and organic. We have some of the best food you can find anywhere.”
One farmers’ market that has undergone a significant change during the pandemic is the Bennington Farmers’ Market, which established a pre-order drive-thru pickup system rather than set up an in-person market. The market is selling products from 16 vendors and taking orders in advance on its website.
“The consumers have been overwhelmingly supportive. I would go so far as to say that for many of our customers, we offer a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dismal time,” says John Primmer, board president and a founding member of the Bennington Farmers’ Market. “I see a renewed appreciation for local foods…and a renewal of faith that a grassroots local organization—The Bennington Farmers’ Market—can make a real difference in citizens’ lives in this troubling time. We are stronger when we work together for positive change.”
Preorder drive-thru pick up only
150 Depot Street parking lot, Bennington
Curbside Pickup: Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon
Guilford Street lot, behind the covered bridge in Brattleboro
In-person “shop and go” market: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (please note that 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. is designated for high-risk shoppers only)
Main market grounds located off Route 9 in Brattleboro
In person “shop and go” market and pre-orders encouraged
Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
2 Taylor Street, Montpelier
In person “shop and go” market and pre-orders available
Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Taylor Park, 6 N. Main Street, St. Albans
To find a farmers’ market near you, visit nofavt.org.