It’s farmers’ market season in Arkansas, nevertheless amid the COVID-19 pandemic, market managers and distributors have needed to rethink their operations to remain in enterprise and take into account whether or not they need to open in any respect this season.
Sixty-nine p.c of the state’s farmers’ markets plan to open or are already open, primarily based on a survey of market operators. One other 29 p.c of market managers are undecided, and a couple of p.c mentioned they won’t open for the 2020 season.
The College of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture partnered with the Arkansas Farmers’ Market Affiliation to survey market managers in regards to the results of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations. The survey, performed in late March and early April, had a 40 p.c response fee, mentioned Ron Rainey, extension economist with the College of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and director of the Southern Threat Administration Training Heart.
Arkansas has 112 farmers’ markets working in 60 counties, in line with the U.S. Division of Agriculture’s Agricultural Advertising Service. Because the state’s restrictions on public gatherings are slowly lifted, farmers’ markets are continuing with warning. Many have revamped their operations and supply methods to attenuate contact and preserve social distancing.
Of these surveyed:
18 p.c plan to scale back their hours or days of operation;
56 p.c will restrict the variety of prospects;
33 p.c could have fewer distributors;
11 p.c could have on-line gross sales solely with curbside pick-up.
DIFFERENT SELLING, SHOPPING EXPERIENCES
Whereas the state’s markets are opening, distributors and buyers can count on a special expertise than earlier than COVID-19.
Many markets supply drive-through and on-line ordering with curb-side pickup. Others nonetheless enable walk-ups, however on-site managers actively monitor and handle social distancing. Tablecloths are now not used, so tables may be ceaselessly sanitized.
Distributors should not solely harvest their product, but in addition kind, package deal and label it. Many supply pre-packaged objects to scale back dealing with of produce and pace up gross sales. Some are additionally fighting this added work of well timed pre-delivery, sorting and group.
Customers will discover the social dynamic of procuring at their native markets has modified too. Gone are the recent meals gross sales, leisure and craft cubicles, which encourage buyers to linger and socialize with buddies and neighbors.
FAYETTEVILLE’S QUICK TURNAROUND
The Fayetteville Farmers’ Market operates year-round — indoors from December to March and outdoor from April to November. Managers discovered in late March simply earlier than opening day on April four that town had closed Fayetteville Sq., the same old web site of the outside market.
“We needed to spin on our heel,” mentioned Teresa Maurer, co-manager and vendor coordinator for Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, which relocated to a car parking zone within the metropolis’s Evelyn Hills Purchasing Heart, close to the positioning of the indoor winter market.
Maurer mentioned the market shifted to an internet ordering system to attenuate contact and keep away from the dealing with of money and bank cards. She skilled distributors remotely on the right way to record merchandise on an internet advertising and marketing system. The market has lowered its days of operation to Saturdays solely and shortened its hours. As an alternative of the standard 70 distributors, there are about 24 distributors promoting farm and meals necessities.
Maurer mentioned Saturday market attendance earlier than COVID-19 was 5,000 to 10,000 individuals. The market now attracts about 5 p.c of that quantity. And that’s OK for staying inside present tips, Maurer mentioned.
“The purchasers who’re coming to our market are shopping for,” she mentioned. “We don’t have the socializing.”
The Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, in reality, asks for “critical buyers solely throughout this time” on its web site and asks individuals to not go to in giant teams.
Maurer and employees monitor the variety of individuals coming into the market space. They ask visitors to put on masks, wash their palms upon coming into the market, and chorus from touching the produce till after buy.
FLOWERS ARE BACK IN BUSINESS
The Arkansas Division of Well being just lately lifted restrictions to permit floral distributors to promote at markets. The distributors, nevertheless, can promote solely cut-flower bouquets, not customized orders that require extra time on web site. This determination was hailed by small diversified farmers who derive important revenue from flower gross sales.
That comes as excellent news to Beth Breckenridge, who plans to promote her sunflowers and zinnias on the Market at McCrory in Woodruff County when the market opens June 13.
McCrory’s market opened final yr after the city obtained a Native Meals, Native Locations grant by means of the U.S. Environmental Safety Company. It began with 11 distributors, largely small producers and yard gardeners who develop meals inside 50 miles of the city.
“Entry to native meals was one of many high points individuals talked about,” Woodruff County Extension agent Leigh Ann Bullington mentioned. “Folks have been excited to have a market, they usually need it to broaden. Despite the fact that we solely have it as soon as a month, it’s an incredible advertising and marketing instrument for the producers. The neighborhood now is aware of the place to get produce.”
Rainey mentioned farmers’ markets play a significant function in creating entry to domestically grown meals and direct engagement with farmers throughout Arkansas’ rural and concrete communities.
“We’re seeing unemployment numbers approaching 20 p.c, and individuals are in search of public help,” Rainey mentioned. “Considered one of their considerations is the place they’ll get their diet.”
In flip, the markets give farmers and producers some visibility for his or her merchandise and open the door for direct gross sales with new prospects.
To find out about extension packages in Arkansas, contact an area Cooperative Extension Service agent or go to www.uaex.edu. Observe the company on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.
The College of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture provides all its Extension and Analysis packages and providers with out discrimination.
— Tracy Braveness is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.