By Harley Nefe
Boone’s Winter Farmers’ Market, facilitated by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, is returning for the 2020-2021 season starting this Saturday, Dec. 5. It will operate from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. every Saturday in December through April at the Watauga Agricultural Conference Center, located at 252 Poplar Grove Road in Downtown Boone.
This year marks the Boone Winter Farmers’ Market’s fifth season offering retail space to local farmers and producers and providing community members an opportunity to continue accessing fresh, local foods and products all winter long.
Watauga Cooperative Extension Director Jim Hamilton said the Cooperative Extension System helps market and promote the farmers’ market.
“We support it because it’s another outlet to support our farmers through the winter season so that customers can have access to locally grown food year round,” Hamilton said.
After several weeks of working with their partners across the region, including the Town of Boone and the Watauga County Farmers’ Market, Boone’s Winter Farmers’ Market developed new protocols to help ensure farmers and consumers are supported during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is just so everyone stays safe and everyone can maintain distancing and having it be a healthy market,” said Ellie Mullie, who is the Farmers’ Market Manager for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture.
Boone’s Winter Farmers’ Market will look different from the typical winter farmers’ market. Due to COVID-19, the 3Ws — wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart and washing hands frequently — will be enforced. Masks are required for both vendors and customers, and hand sanitizer and masks will be provided. Vendors will be spread throughout the Agricultural Center’s parking lot, Conference Center and Warehouse, allowing for a blend between indoor and outdoor settings. There will also be a one-way customer traffic pattern throughout the market and customer limits, as facilitators will be making sure not more than 50 people are inside at once. Upon arrival at the farmers’ market, people will be greeted by market staff and given maps to help navigate the new system. Then customers are encouraged to shop and return home to enjoy their food purchases.
“People so far have been really respectful of safety precautions,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think it will be quite the social event it’s been in the past, but it’s more being made available to provide an outlet for the farmers and an outlet for the customers who still want to know where their food comes from.”
Boone’s Winter Farmers Market will also be offering the Double Up Food Bucks program for customers with SNAP benefits. How it works is customers can bring their SNAP/EBT card, W.I.C. or Senior FMNP vouchers to the market and go to the manager’s booth. There, the customers can tell them how much they would like to spend and they will receive double the amount in tokens for market shopping.
Double Up Food Bucks is a food equity program, and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture does fundraising and receives grants to be able to match people’s food stamps when they shop at local farmers’ markets.
“This is a really awesome program,” said Mullis, who is also the Double Up Food Bucks Manager. “We call it a win-win-win because it supports our farmers so they can still sell their food at the prices that it cost for them to raise it. However, we are making that food more equitably accessible by subsidizing the price of local food for people who may not be able to afford local food otherwise. It’s a win for the farmers; it’s a win for the customers so they can afford to eat healthy and eat local food, and it’s also a win for the local economy because more food dollars stay within the region.”
Over the last year, more than 221 families have doubled $21,900 to purchase local food at Boone’s farmers’ markets.
“It’s been a really successful year for our program and for all the participants,” Mullis said.
Some of the foods and products available this season at Boone’s Winter Farmers Market includes a variety of veggies and greens, meats, eggs, baked goods, and crafts.
There are 19 vendors total and customers can expect to see a full range of farmers’ market products.
To find a list of 2020-2021 vendors visit: https://www.brwia.org/2020-2021-vendors.html.
“Supporting your local farmers’ market is a really big way to support the local economy and to get healthy, fresh food that’s good for yourself, good for the community and good for the environment,” Mullis said. “There’s plenty of reasons to shop locally, but my favorite personally is that you can be a part of the community, you get to learn where your food comes from and interact with the vendors that grow it, and you can see all the time and energy that gets put into it, and it makes you feel good emotionally and physically because it’s really healthy food, and there’s a lot of reasons to be excited about local food.”
For more information about the Boone Winter Farmers’ Market and posts about featured vendors, customers are encouraged to follow the Boone’s Winter Farmers’ Market Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BooneWinterFM/ and the Boone Winter Farmers’ Market Instagram page: www.instagram.com/boonewintermarket/.