Farm Market Strategizes for a Season Under the "New Normal"

Lauren Todd, Henry Got Crops Farm Market Manager

photo by Lauren Todd
Hannah harvesting with mask.

Henry Got Crops Farm Market — Delayed Opening

Thanks for your patience as we implement new safety measures at our site. We hope to see you in early June with the best produce from the WW Farms, seasonal fruit and veggies from other local growers, plus quality locally-sourced meats, cheeses, breads, hot sauces and more! We will communicate important changes via the Co-op’s website, eNews/eShopper, Facebook, and Instagram pages and June edition of The Shuttle.

Thanks to a mild winter, the 2020 growing season for regional farms, including Weavers Way Farms, was well underway when the new coronavirus roared onto the scene. While our farms in Roxborough and East Germantown were deemed “life-sustaining,” with stay-at-home orders, social distancing mandates, and customer caps in grocery stores, it was clear we had been thrust into a new reality.

The Farm Team responded by taking our weekly in-person meetings online. We discussed how our farms, CSA, and farm market would respond to COVID-19 concerns, much like farmers markets, small businesses, and food retail establishments throughout the country.

What Others Are Doing

The internet is abuzz with blogs, webinars, and online meetings where farmers, market managers, restauranteurs, and food producers are sharing how they are innovating to meet the needs of their communities during a viral global pandemic. The takeaway is clear: the demand for quality, nutritious, locally-sourced food from trusted producers is higher than ever.

Many farmers markets and CSAs have pivoted to new operating models to accommodate this growing demand and manage safety concerns. The Food Trust, a Philly-based nonprofit with a mission to provide healthy food access and nutrition education, manages three year-round farmers markets in the city. They remain open but have new safety precautions in practice. They display signage that details recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have increased space between vendor tables, require customers to wash their hands at handwashing stations upon entry, and request that customers point to products they intend to purchase rather than handling the produce themselves. Farmers and market staff must wear gloves at all times and must change them frequently.

Other farmers markets have shifted to a pre-order, pre-pay, grab ‘n’ go system. Farm to City, another Philly-based food enterprise that operates Saturday farmers markets in Chestnut Hill, Bryn Mawr and Rittenhouse Square, has adopted a hybrid business model that balances a no-contact, pre-order system with traditional face-to-face shopping. The first hours of the market are reserved for customers picking up pre-orders placed through individual food vendors. The market then transitions into a “normal” retail space. New safety measures require shoppers to wear masks or face coverings, and they encourage a limit of one shopper per household to make social distancing easier.

What We’re Doing So Far

The Farm Team is gleaning best practices from these markets and is implementing COVID-19 guidelines for farmers markets and on-farm markets published by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. We are keeping up to date with reports and recommendations from the CDC and our state’s Health Department, and are crafting a safety plan for this season tailored to the unique needs of our farmers, market staff and shoppers.

We’ve already implemented important changes to the way we work to increase safety at our growing sites. Farmers and field assistants wear clean masks and gloves when harvesting, washing and handling vegetables. Tools and work surfaces are cleaned and thoroughly disinfected before and after use. We practice social distancing and limit the number of people who can be inside our CSA/market building at one time. Sanitizer and soap are in abundant supply, and a volunteer installed a new outdoor sink to make hand washing easier. Expectations for cleanliness and safety extend to our volunteers and cooperators, so please tote your mask when coming to fulfill your working member hours at the farm.

By the time this article reaches your mailbox (or inbox), our CSA will likely be sold out. Signups rushed in this year, aligning with nationwide trends. To minimize risk, we are updating the way we distribute our farm shares. Members of our CSA program can anticipate outdoor pickups of pre-bagged weekly shares with staggered pickup times.

We also will have new guidelines for using our You-Pick section, including limiting the number of people in the herb and flower rows at one time and asking members to bring their own scissors and to wear a clean mask and gloves. If you didn’t snag a CSA share in time, don’t fret; you can still find our homegrown produce in the Co-op’s produce departments and at the Farm Market.

We Will Open — A Little Later Than Usual

This year, due to COVID-19-related challenges, our market will open a month late; pencil us in for early June. Because space constraints in the building make social distancing extremely challenging, we are considering moving to a pre-order system where orders would be pre-packaged for easy pickup.

Look for specific information about our exact opening date and time in the eNews, on our website, on our Facebook and Instagram pages and on signage in our stores. We will do our best to communicate important operational changes through these outlets.

In addition to selling our own homegrown produce at the Farm Market, we also support our regional food economy. This season we will continue to be an outlet for local small farms and food producers who have lost significant portions of their businesses due to restaurant closures. We are a vital access point for those who depend on SNAP benefits, Farmers Market Nutrition Vouchers and Philly Food Bucks. With safety as a primary concern, we are exploring a format that prevents close physical contact but also accommodates customers who have technology limitations, who rely on free produce vouchers and who make purchases with an EBT card.

For now, we’ve suspended programming at our sites until we can safely run educational workshops and events. As restrictions in daily life begin to ease, we are hopeful the farm can once again host family-friendly movie nights, flower arranging workshops and your impromptu picnics.

As in previous years, expect to see the freshest chemical-free veggies just picked from our fields. Get ready to be wowed by beautiful and nutritious seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farms and quality cheeses, meats, pastas, ice cream, and hot sauces from our favorite nearby producers. But also expect to see lots of safety measures in practice.

Coronavirus has dramatically altered our daily routines. The farm experience will be different this year, but we will still be a site where visitors are nourished in body and spirit.

Thanks for your patience as we continue to plan for the season. We appreciate your continued support of the Co-op’s farms and look forward to seeing you at the market soon. Trust that even if you can’t see it, under our masks, we’ll be greeting you with a smile.