By Nathan Ham
Despite COVID-19 coronavirus fears, the winter farmers’ market organized by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture opened outdoors at the Horn in the West in Boone. The winter market is typically held indoors at the agriculture conference center, but after being closed for the month of March, the winter market reopened in a more wide-open environment.
“We worked with the Town of Boone and the health department to develop a list of rules and strategies based on our partners around the state and around the nation who are running farmers’ markets outside,” said Kelsey Crawford, who is the programs coordinator for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture.
Each vendor is at least 10 feet apart and every vendor is required to wear masks and use gloves when they’re handling money. Every customer in line is at least six feet apart. Customers are also asked to not pick things up on vendor tables and instead point to the items they would like to purchase or point to the items they have questions about.
“The farmers’ market has always been seen as an event whereas now it is seen as an essential business. All the vendors here now are providing things that are considered essential based on the guidelines the state has put out,” Crawford said.
The winter market will continue for the rest of April and will transition to the Watauga County Farmers’ Market that will begin on the first Saturday in May.
Brent Cochran from Shady Grove Gardens says that the two biggest things that vendors are customers are focusing on are food safety and supporting local producers.
“We’re providing the opportunity for people to get out and get local food and local items in a really safe space to feel comfortable getting what they need. We’ve seen a lot of people tapping into the local food market because they know the farmers that are growing it and are supporting efforts to keep their money local and keep the economy going,” said Cochran. “It has been a really unexpected positive thing to come out of this whole mess.”
Instead of battling crowds and being in a closed environment at grocery stores, folks were happy to be able to shop for what they need and get some fresh air.
“It’s a great opportunity to get nutrient-packed, fresh, local food and support our farmers in a safer environment than the grocery stores are right now,” said Julia McIntyre with Trebuchet Hill farm.
Other vendors are happy to have the winter farmers’ market back up and running even if it is for just one more month. The hope is that everything transitions smoothly into the summer market.
“We’re happy to be back and I really appreciate the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture who have been on top of all the protocols we need to take to keep both our vendors and customers safe. We look forward to people coming out and still being able to access local foods,” said Genevieve Sanders with The Hive Bakery.
Her husband, Joe, wanted to remind people to also reach out and support craft vendors through their websites since they are not able to be at the market.
“We are looking at using this as a test run for the summer farmers’ market as well but it looks like our craft vendors are not going to be allowed at the summer market due to the regulations in place so we are going to try to remind people that even though you are here to support the food vendors, we also want to remind you to go on the craft vendors’ websites to support them as well. This is the only source of income for a lot of our vendors this time of year,” said Joe.
This year’s winter market is a little bit different with no craft vendors as they are not considered an essential business and must close during this stay-at-home period ordered by Governor Roy Cooper.