More Essential than Ever: County Farmers Markets Rise to the Challenge to Open for Season

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Roberto Fred Farms, a vendor at several county markets, following NYS guidelines.
Roberto Fred Farms, a vendor at several county markets, following NYS guidelines.

When gatherings of ten or more were prohibited under NYS regulations in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, area farmers, artisans, and community members wondered if local farmers’ markets could open. St Luke’s Episcopal Church, home of the Jamestown Public Market and its community programs, was relieved to find out the state designated markets as ‘essential’.

“We were very happy to see that the state agreed with us, that farmers’ markets are essential” states Market Manager Linnea Carlson. “We provide more than a weekly community event space; for many of our farmers, markets are their livelihoods. The market and our programs increase food access for our community, and offer a way to support the local economy. Farmers’ markets are more important than ever.”

Peaches from area farm Hidden Valley Farms.
Peaches from area farm Hidden Valley Farms.

A Community Essential

While market organizers were happy to see that farmers’ markets were considered essential, opening amid the pandemic has posed some new and unique challenges. Per NYS customers are asked to wear masks or face coverings, practice social distance, and request assistance from vendors to bag items. Many managers and vendors were left wondering how this would work for an event that is focused on developing farmer-consumer relationships.

Carlson recognizes several regional and state coalitions and organizations as key supporters in this year’s planning. “Southern Tier West and the Farmers Market Federation of NY have been vital to assisting managers navigate changes to market procedures. From sharing signage, to offering forums for the sharing of ideas, they have made the unexpected challenges much easier.”

Markets unfortunately cannot offer weekly activities, such as children’s programming, cooking demonstrations, live entertainment or even product samples. But as Carlson relays, “We are not focusing on that. We are just thrilled we can continue to be a part of our community, and we are looking at this as an opportunity to get back to the root of what makes markets so special: a celebration of local agriculture and small entrepreneurs.”

While several county markets will not be re-opening for the season, the majority of markets will continue, with most hosting their opening day as June begins. The Fredonia Farmers Market never faltered during the pandemic, remaining open as usual, while the Westfield Farmers and Artisan Market opened June 6, and the Lakewood Farmers and Artisans Market is set for a June 10 opening.

The Jamestown Public Market is set to open June 13 and continue each Saturday in downtown Jamestown. While several new procedures will be followed to keep the community safe, market vendors, staff and volunteers are more excited than ever to celebrate local with the community.

Jamestown Public Market in 2019 season.
Jamestown Public Market in 2019 season.

The Value of Local

With food prices skyrocketing and grocery shelves left bare in the midst of the Covid-19 response, markets present the opportunity for individuals to shop for their favorite grocery staples, while supporting the local economy. Global and national food chains saw major disruption, with meat plants plagued with Covid-19 infections, mom-and-pop grocery stores closing, and delays in delivery routes present.

Farmers and producers that participate in local markets live and work within the communities they serve. They travel, sometimes less than 10 miles, from their farms to markets, bringing with them produce that is more fresh than any other, meats that are sustainably raised, and unique valued added products that may have disappeared from grocery store shelves.

Perhaps due to the need to find alternative food sources local food businesses and farms have seen a drastic increase in business, and adapted to the challenges posed. Anneliese Bruegel, manager of the Fredonia Farmers Market shares the impact of shopping local has had on their market “The Fredonia Farmers’ Market runs year round, so while other markets have had months to prepare, we really had to adapt quickly to all the changes when NY PAUSE came into effect. But we were adamant that providing fresh, local foods to our community was essential. And the support that we’ve received from our community for our vendors and local farms has been incredible. We are very grateful and appreciate of the support we’ve received from our community.”

St. Luke’s also recognizes the incredible support the community and local foundations, such as the Western NY Foundation and the United Way, who have helped fund needed supplies needed by both the public and mobile markets. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua helped distribute NYS manufactured hand sanitizer and masks to markets and agriculture business due to the unexpected hit to budgets not prepared to fund PPE. As Carlson states, “We are proud to be a part of this community that has risen to the challenge.”

The Jamestown Public Market opens June 13, on Cherry Street, in Downtown Jamestown, from 10 am to 2 pm. Customers are asked to follow all NYS recommendations for social distancing. For more information on area markets, their offerings and hours, visit FreshLocalWNY.org