Sussex Co. Farmers’ Market finds ways to survive despite pandemic
AUGUSTA — Throughout 2020, the public — especially businesses — have made adjustments to try to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and its crippling effects.
Farmers are no exception. Some have started delivery for the first time, some drive-thru with their stands.
But how, in the face of the major coronavirus, to take an extremely popular and well-shopped farmers’ market and keep it thriving?
Donna Traylor runs the busy Sussex County Farmers Market in Augusta, which has one of the few farmers’ markets buildings in the state of New Jersey. “It’s been challenging,” says Traylor, the former Director of the Farmland Preservation and Open Space Program for Sussex County for 25 years. “The farmers’ market building has been around for a decade now. We’ve conducted the farmers’ market as business as usual until this spring.”
When COVID-19 hit, agriculture as an essential entity was able to stay open, but since the market has its own building, Traylor knew she could open it, but how to limit exposure and keep people safe? Traylor, who also works closely with the New Jersey Farm Bureau, reached out to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which was working closely with Rutgers extension (as well as other Extension offices around the country), to find the best protocols and recommendations for moving forward.
Those protocols were put together that Rutgers University and the New Jersey Farm Bureau were comfortable with, they were posted by the market door, and it reopened in the middle of June.
Traylor and team elected to tell the farmers to bring the product, and that they themselves — the people who run the Sussex County Farmers Market — would sell the produce for them, therefore having less people selling and more people coming in to buy. So, the produce amount — if the farmers agreed to stay involved — stayed the same, but customer number might increase due to the extra room.
“So, we took over one half of the building,” explains Traylor, “and we set up row of tables, so there is a row of tables that buffers me selling the product and the consumer buying.” All the food product was on a set of tables behind Traylor, and the only handler of the product are the market folks themselves. “I have to tell you: we weren’t sure how that was going to turn out,” she says, because when you go into the supermarket, you can still pick up the produce and feel it and out it down again. But actually, there is a consumer base out there that in the late spring and early summer was not feeling that.” As a result, buyers were more comfortable knowing that the public was not roaming and touching the product.
By July, all was working fine. Customers entered one side of the building and exited the other. A greeter kept count of (and limited) the number of shoppers in the building at one time, and six-foot spaces were clearly marked, which visitors respectively followed.
“We may have 100 customers on any given Saturday, a lot of regulars, a lot of new ones each week,” says Traylor, “and it’s comfortable, we walk one side of the building to the other.”
The Sussex Farmers’ Market met the need of the rural consumer. Also nice about it, Traylor knows the local farmers local and their product well and could educate the shopper minus the farmer being present. “We’re actually selling a good amount for every person because it’s a one-on-one for me and the consumer,” she says.
The Sussex County Farmers Market, which ran through mid-November, did its best to help the agricultural community and its customers. “There are a lot people who don’t feel comfortable going into a supermarket, even today, when things have gotten a little bit better,” attests Traylor. “They come to me and say, ‘We appreciate being able to get just about what we need here.’”
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