Late starts, social distancing, reservation systems, crazy weather, fewer vendors, and mask upon mask upon mask: That's a good breakdown of this year's pandemic farmers' market season. But despite the changes, some things stayed the same — namely, the steadfast people who run things, the farmers who continue to grow great produce and the customers eager to get their heirloom tomatoes, organic kale and five kinds of radishes.
“Kicking off this season amid a global pandemic felt as though the whole world was crashing down on us, and nobody knew what to expect," says Liz Nail, co-owner of Mile High Fungi and a staple at the farmers' markets at Union Station, West Highland and South Pearl Street. "We are so grateful to have such a vibrant, supportive community that recognizes the importance of maintaining a healthy local food system.”
One thing that remained "normal" were the stands offering up some of Colorado's finest produce. Nail's three market days brought mushroom lovers to her family's stall for trumpet, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, as well as foraged fungi. Ela Family Farms continued to sell some of the best apples at the Boulder and Union Station farmers' markets, run by Boulder County Farmers' Markets (BCFM). This year the Croft Family Farm again sported one of the most beautiful setups at the Union Station Farmers' Market. And at many markets around town, Miller Family Farm was able to let people fill a bag for a set price, as they have done for years — though 2020 brought along a side of gloves and sanitizer.
"Given the uncertainty at the beginning of the year, our spirits are high about how the season played out, but it certainly hasn't been an easy transition," says Elyse Wood, operations and marketing manager for BCFM. "The experience was different, so we tried to keep as much as possible to be true to our roots and keep a sense of normalcy."
But while the vegetables, herbs and fruit didn't take notice of COVID-19 and the pandemic, the markets did, so some things had to change. For starters, the BCFM built a new online, curbside business from scratch — something that involved more details than she'd ever dreamed of, Wood says.
"Opening markets in the middle of a pandemic was a feat, and we really took the responsibility seriously and worked closely with our health officials to ensure we had the best measures in place to keep our community safe," says Wood, tipping a hat to the staff who helped make the markets happen. "I don't think the public understands the complexities of having an online store and packing operation with over 200 SKUs."
All told, BCFM packed more than 7,000 orders. Organizers put together an additional 3,300 bags for new food-access programs launched this year, including food delivery service through Via and a winter subscription service for WIC families. Not only was BCFM able to open three of its markets (the Lafayette location remained closed) and help people in need, but it also received a Community Health award from Boulder County Public Health.
"It feels like we've done years of work in one year, reinventing ourselves to meet the need," says Wood. "Overall, continuing to serve the community local, farm-fresh food and providing an outlet for local farmers brings us joy and keeps us going."
Despite all of this work, however, sales were slower, as was expected, and the overall turnout was down as people were wary of leaving their homes. But the good news is that the infrastructure is now in place so that the BCFM can continue to offer online shopping and curbside pick-up. This means that even after the markets close (October 24 is the last day for the Union Station location, November 21 for Boulder and Longmont), there will still be goods available to purchase and pick up through December 31 — or at least that's the goal, Woods adds.
"There's potential for the curbside pick-up to grow and flourish beyond this year, and it's exciting to see how it might," says Wood. "However, it's also exciting to think about returning to the street market and embracing our friends and neighbors as we remember."
As for next year, the staff hopes things will get back to normal. But in case it doesn't, there will still be a way to shop at the farmers' market.
Boulder Farmers' Market
Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Open until November 21
Cherry Creek Farmers' Market
East First Avenue and University Boulevard
Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Open until November 14
Longmont Farmers' Market
9595 Nelson Road, Longmont
Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Open until November 21
Parker Farmers' Market
19565 Mainstreet, Parker
Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Open until October 25
South Pearl Street Farmers' Market
South Pearl Street and East Florida Avenue
Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Open until November 15
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