Managers of area farmers markets have been thinking outside the booth to provide residents with their products amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For Pam Beito, the manager of the Bay Area Farmers Market, who has also produced and sold her own honey for the last nine years, the process of doing business has been fast changing—and at times uncomfortable—the past two months. One of the benefits of farmers market shopping compared to a grocery store, she said, is the chance to interact with whoever made the products being sold. However, the pandemic has challenged and compromised this experience for both buyers and sellers.
Beito sold her products at another Houston-area farmers market until late March but has not since returned even though she has lost money by not going. Customers were touching products before buying and ignoring social distancing recommendations, even getting angry if asked to be more cautious, she recalled.
“I really couldn’t keep an eye on the table like I wanted to. ... That was a little frustrating,” she said.
Keeping her experiences in mind, she employed sanitizer and glove policies when the Bay Area Farmers Market went drive-thru for six weeks. The two dozen shops were set up in a horseshoe shape so people picking up prepaid orders could come along the back side of each booth to keep traffic from getting congested. The setup also ensured drivers went past all vendors.
Moreover, she encouraged her vendors not to attend if they exhibited even the slightest symptoms of illness or decided they were not turning enough of a profit.
“That’s what I [drove] home every week with the vendors: Only you can decide if this is beneficial for you,” Beito said.
Beito started the market in 2018. Bay Area Farmers Market is for producers only, so none of the vendors are reselling products, she said. A feedback questionnaire was provided to vendors during the market’s drive-thru period to gauge success, and Beito said vendors and customers alike expressed gratitude at having the drive-thru option amid the widespread business closures due to coronavirus concerns.
Still, the economic distress of the pandemic is taking its toll, making prepandemic attendance and sales numbers unlikely, she said.
“It’s just like the virus itself: It will get worse before it gets better,” Beito said about market revenue.
The market will have its second normal walk-through setup May 10 after drive-thru operations ended May 3. Rules in place, according to a Facebook post, include not touching and handling vendors’ products, not lingering at the market once items are purchased and reducing the number of shoppers from each family when possible. The community tents and coloring tables are no longer in the market area, per the post.
“The farmers market is an essential business providing food and healthy alternatives to our community. Unfortunately, at this time it is not a place to socialize,” the post reads. “Do not make the farmers market a family outing.”
Other local markets have gotten creative in how they service Bay Area residents amid the pandemic. Penny’s Beer Garden, an urban farm, market and taproom in Dickinson, has hosted several free produce drives since mid-April, where customers can get free vegetable and cage-free egg baskets. Different crops are available each time depending on how the garden is doing, owner Kristal White said.
The drive-thru events happen about every two weeks, with the next one May 9. Customers can also get growlers filled with one of half a dozen local ciders or beers.
The beer garden has given away dozens of bags at each produce drive—up to 70 at a time, White said. Donations are accepted, which are given entirely to the beer garden’s bartenders.
“Everyone’s really appreciative,” she said. “Even if they don’t necessarily need the veggies...I think it’s just a good way for the community to feel like something is getting done out there.”