By Lauren Diggin
Novel Coronavirus Helps/ Hinders Local Food Scene
When coronavirus started creeping through Massachusetts in early March, most of us didn’t fully grasp what was in store. As things got more serious and toilet paper disappeared, reality began to sink in. Restaurants were ordered closed, which in turn hurt the fishermen and farmers who supply them. Many winter farmers’ markets also closed. By the end of March, supermarket shelves were bare, and many people avoided going out, as much as possible.
As the landscape darkened in April, interest in local food began to skyrocket. A growing number of people turned to farmers and farmers’ markets for food. This new interest looks to be a boon for farmers this season, but restaurants and the fishing industry also need help from consumers.
Corona Effects Restaurants
Restaurant Industry Hit Hard
Massachusetts’ first presumptive case of COVID-19 was identified on March 2, which seems eons ago. Life felt normal, and people still dined out. Two weeks later, on March 15, Governor Baker issued an emergency order prohibiting on-premises consumption of food and drink at bars and restaurants, to take effect just two days later on St. Patrick’s Day. Restaurants were forced to quickly decide whether to close completely or transition to take-out only. The harsh realities of the pandemic were on our doorstep, especially for the restaurant industry.
“[Coronavirus] came out of nowhere and it was like we were in slow motion,” said Nina Peters, owner of The Tasty in Plymouth with her husband, Chef Mike Peters. Even before the order, Nina said, “Every day was a state of waiting for more restrictions to come—wondering what decisions are being made and how it’s going to affect you.”
The Tasty turns four in July and the couple has worked hard to make it a success. Even prior to the pandemic, Nina believed they hadn’t reached their comfort zone. “Owning a restaurant is already riddled with nervousness and stress, and then seeing this come, it’s like a tsunami, overtaking the entire playing field,” said Nina.
Before the governor’s order, Nina and Mike had already limited capacity and taken extra measures for cleaning and disinfecting, following all CDC, state, and local guidelines and recommendations—all to keep staff and guests safe.
After the order, they immediately stopped their employees from coming in, and The Tasty was thrown into a take-out situation. The couple believed they could run the restaurant themselves. On March 18, the couple decided to start take-out that night, “Every day [we were] thinking that restaurants would be shut down completely,” explained Nina. “We did take-out the next day, and the next day, and the next.”
The first Saturday of take-out was so busy, the two of them were crushed. “The phone was constantly ringing, and I just kept answering it,” said Nina. “I couldn’t even give orders to the kitchen.” Nina experienced her worst day of work ever. She was in tears by 6:00 pm and didn’t stop crying for 36 hours. “We learned very quickly what not to do. By the following Saturday, we had a system down.”
“Even with all of the people who waited for their food, and waited, and waited, people were kind and patient,” said Nina. One person who ordered food was an employee, and she went in to help when she saw how overwhelmed they were. Two regular customers came back and washed dishes.
Rather than offering a limited menu for take-out, they continued to create different menus, trying to offer something for everyone; she wanted the food to be amazing. “When two people are producing that, you can’t do it. It’s insanity. A couple sandwiches and a couple soups would be one thing. But Mike was putting out really impressive food,” said Nina. The Tasty offered take-out for a few weeks before Nina and Mike decided to stop. Nina was scared about their amount of exposure, and they were burning out. But after closing for six weeks, they reopened for take-out on May 19.
Nina learned during the pandemic that everybody is pulling for you. She’s seen an incredible amount of support from their regulars. “People are understanding and kind. They know you’re going to give them your best, and that’s enough.” Nina expects that when they can reopen for table service, capacity will be limited. They plan to supplement with take-out for as long as needed. “We make decisions based on the experience we can give our clientele. That’s how it’s going to be in this new climate,” Nina reflected. “At the end of the day, Mike can still cook, and I can still take care of people. Even if we were forced to flip the whole operation around, we’d make it work.”
In the restaurant business most of her life, Paula Catalano said the pandemic left her thunderstruck. Co-owner of Table at 10, a farm-to-table restaurant in North Attleboro, Paula remarked that “It took me a couple of weeks to process it, and I couldn’t even believe it was happening. I wasn’t even thinking of the future of the restaurant; I was thinking of the employees.”
Paula said they saw a decline in business even before the governor’s order. “It was different. It wasn’t business as usual. It was more Uber Eats and DoorDash orders coming through.” Though Table at 10 didn’t normally do a big take-out business, they decided to give it a shot after the order was announced. Luckily, they had recently launched online ordering and opted to take advantage of it. “It was great because it was already set up,” said Paula. “With the [new] system, no one had to handle or exchange money.”
Table at 10 offered take-out for only a week. Some customers picking up orders weren’t respecting the guidelines and people who didn’t try to socially distance made others uncomfortable. Some folks wanted to sit at the bar and wait for their food, or to hug restaurant employees. Paula was worried about the exposure for her staff and her guests, so she temporarily closed the restaurant. Table at 10 resumed take-out just before Mother’s Day. “The impact of coronavirus has been mainly financial,” said Paula. “But it’s also taken a physical and emotional toll. It’s every part of my life.” The restaurant also saw a loss in its catering business.
Like so many restaurant owners, Nina found applying for SBA help extremely time consuming, and though she could complete her application, she was in limbo waiting to hear on approval. Paula also found the SBA application process difficult. She couldn’t even access bank websites to fill out applications. “I’m nervous about how this will pan out,” shared Paula. “If income is going to be cut in half because our occupancy will be cut in half, will employees make less? Will they want to come back or will they be able to come back?”
Paula said they’ve been fortunate to keep current with their bills. “There were a few systems in place that helped us. We had a great following. People wanted to help us. They were buying gift cards and tipping staff extra. We had friends in California who bought gift cards. Hundreds of people called and emailed to say, we’re thinking of you. There are so many things we have to be grateful for.” Paula is looking forward to welcoming back guests. “We can’t wait to get back into full, happy eating and drinking mode. Back to our fun recipes and great specials and working with our farms. We hope everyone will come back.”
Pivoting for Success
John Cataldi is the owner of two side-by-side restaurants in Kingston: Solstice and A3. When he learned of the governor’s order, his first thought was Solstice. A3, a pizza and pasta family restaurant, already did more than half its business as take-out. Solstice had done a little take-out, but it wasn’t part of the everyday routine. “My first thought was that we’d probably shut [Solstice] down,” said John. “I didn’t know how we’d possibly survive. I met with my chefs and they decided they’d think about it overnight. The next day they had developed a plan to focus on family dinners to feed four.”
As John already did family dinners at A3, he understood the logistics and the demand for it. They pared down Solstice’s regular menu by almost half, keeping items that traveled well. In the beginning, the large-format family meals revolved around meals the chefs would make for their own families, like roasted chicken. Solstice also offered special themed meals, such as Chinese, Mexican for Cinco de Mayo, and Kingston Fried Chicken. “We’re taking simple things and elevating them the best we can. It’s worked out fairly well—we’re surviving,” said John. “I’m just blessed. We have a great crew with a great attitude that never questioned what we were doing and did it well.”
Like everyone in the restaurant business, John is concerned about capacity limitations when restaurants reopen. John thinks it will be late summer before dining establishments can open at half or even three-quarter capacity. “We’ll still do take-out because 25% capacity isn’t going to come close to breaking even or paying bills,” he said. A lot will be dictated by customers, John added. “Either they’re going to feel safe and comfortable or they’re not. Hopefully, take-out will continue to keep the doors open. We’re playing it day by day, literally, pivoting where we have to.”
One way Solstice has pivoted is by partnering with one of its providers to offer customers meat and provisions, including produce and staples like flour. “I saw there was a need for meat and produce, and people were scared to go into supermarkets. We bring in meat every day. For us it was a simple solution to ease people’s pain and keep generating some money for the restaurant,” explained John. Customers can pre-order for curbside pickup twice a week. The meat is more expensive than what is found at supermarkets, but it’s much better quality. “We’re lucky to have such a loyal clientele that supported us, and a great crew,” said John. “We’re not out of the woods yet; we’re still figuring things out. We’re hopefully surviving, providing employees with work and people with food.”
Adaptability is Key
At Partners Village Store & Kitchen in Westport, owner Lydia Gollner said the impact of COVID-19 has been two-fold. “We’ve stayed open every day since we had to respond to the governor’s orders,” said Lydia. “We immediately changed direction and became take-out only. From an employee standpoint, we’ve had to cut staff in half based on volume going out and the ability for employees to stay safe.” Employees had a choice of whether to remain working or stay home.
The cafe seats 24 with additional outdoor seating, and even during the off -season months, the cafe would generally be filled. Lydia said take-out has been busier than it used to be. Westport has limited options for take-out, and everything at Partners is fresh and made-to-order, which she believes is the major draw. Although Partners never closed, some changes were necessary. “We were quick to adapt checking out,” Lydia explained. People can provide payment information over the phone or use Square to pay contactlessly in the shop.
Partners also shrank its service hours, opening a half hour later and closing an hour earlier. When the pandemic began, Lydia said they were winging it. “We had no idea what [coronavirus] would bring and how it would impact our employees and customers. Would we have business? Could I afford to keep the lights on?” The limited hours have worked out well, though, and employees are clear about the new hours when people call to order.
Like other business owners, Lydia is grateful things have worked out so far. “Our ability to be nimble and flexible was key to seamlessly executing once this all happened—and a positive attitude,” she said. “I’m very blessed to have a dedicated staff that was willing to work.” Having a gift store along with the cafe has also helped business. It occurred to the Partners staff that they can sell anything in the store through the take-out window. Easter was the first holiday during the closing. The shop stocked up, and then the doors were closed. Luckily, most of the Easter inventory sold.
Lydia said they’ve done a robust book business during the pandemic and a lot of business around birthdays for kids. Staff helps customers do one-on-one shopping by taking pictures of current inventory and communicating by email. Partners offers gift wrapping, and parents have been able to create birthday parties. The shop did the same for Mother’s Day. They’ve also shipped a lot of product. Still, says Lydia, sales from the store won’t help soften the blow from the cafe being closed. “Summer pays the bills,” said Lydia. “We need the summer volume to bring this back, but we’re remaining optimistic.”
Summer will likely be a difficult and uncertain time for restaurants, which operate on exceedingly small margins in the best of times. When they can reopen, capacity will be limited by state guidelines. Many local restaurants are supporting their communities by offering free food to students and healthcare workers. It’s up to those same communities to help support their local restaurants and help them to survive.
Table at 10
Partners Village Store & Kitchen
Corona Effects Seafood
Ripple Effect on Local Seafood Industry
Restaurant closings were particularly hard on local fishermen. More than 70% of seafood is traditionally sold in restaurants, according to the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF). That leaves fishermen with few options to sell their catch. DMF Acting Director Dan McKiernan said in a video, “Unfortunately, the ongoing shut-down of restaurants has devastated sales and reduced prices paid to the fleet. While there’s been a slight increase in demand for seafood that can be prepared at home, this segment of the market cannot make up for the losses due to the closure of the restaurants.”
Troy Durr of Mattapoisett saw firsthand how restaurant closings hurt local fishermen and wanted to help them. Both Troy’s uncle and a good friend are lobstermen, and growing up on the South Coast, Troy’s known many of the area lobstermen his whole life. “Spring is the time of year many lobstermen in our area put their gear back in the water and start fishing,” commented Troy. “My uncle’s boat went out early, as always, did well, had all its gear out, and the next time they went back out, there was no one who would buy a lobster from them.” Troy added that other fishermen who hadn’t yet put their boats in the water and made money from a first run now had no gear out and no way to earn income for the foreseeable future.
Troy decided to make a simple Facebook post to help his uncle’s boat sell lobsters. To his surprise, the post was shared almost 200 times. Troy said he was getting messages from strangers, which he didn’t expect. From this, the SouthCoast Direct Source Seafood Facebook group was born. Troy created the group with his uncle, Doug Durr, who is a longtime crew member on the F/V Miss Molly, captained by Dave Magee.
They started the group to help a few local boats stay employed during the restaurant closings. Troy thought Facebook was a great way to connect local residents with fishermen and let people know how and when to buy seafood directly from fishermen at the dock. Captains would post when they’d be coming in, and lobsters would be sold off the boats on a first-come, first-served basis at Union Wharf in Fairhaven. Both the Miss Molly and the F/V Mary Anne, captained by Troy’s friend Mike Asci, already held the licenses required to sell directly to the public. Captains are not able to hold or deliver their catch but can legally sell the catch from their boat if they hold the correct license.
The first week of selling to the public, the page had 500 members, and lobsters from the two boats sold out. The next week, the group had ballooned to 2,200 members and lobsters from four boats sold out. The week after that, a 3-mile long line of 500 cars backed up from the wharf all the way to Route 6. After this, Troy implemented a pre-order system. Even though the demand was far beyond what Troy imagined, he added boats to the group at a slow pace. Many group members get frustrated when a catch sells out before they can order, but Troy carefully vets each boat before adding it to the group.
Troy is less familiar with scallopers, but he was able to add a few scallop boats after contacts he knew in the industry vouched for them. Before Troy adds a fishing vessel, he makes sure it has all required licenses. The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has been a great help. In one case, a scallop boat’s license had lapsed and the DMF helped the boat get up-to-date quickly. “The DMF is definitely on their side,” explained Troy. “They have been supportive, helpful, and happy to support fishermen.” To help during the pandemic, the DMF waived the fee for the license required to sell directly to the public.
The agency knows that selling directly to consumers is not enough to compensate for the loss of restaurant sales. For people who want to help local fishermen, the DMF is asking consumers to support their local markets and fishermen by eating more Massachusetts seafood and buying local. “With some uncertainty in our national food supply chain, Massachusetts is producing a great domestic source of healthy protein that’s being landed every day,” said DMF’s Daniel McKiernan.
The DMF keeps an updated list of open seafood markets on its website and is hoping consumers help the local fishing and seafood industries during the pandemic, especially independent, family-owned businesses. “Please make the effort to support the local seafood industry in this critical time,” asked McKiernan.
SouthCoast Direct Source Seafood
Division of Marine Fisheries list of seafood markets
Corona Effects Farms
Farms Deal with Restaurant Closings, Farmers’ Market Uncertainty, …Spike in Consumer Demand
The restaurant closings were also a hard hit to many area farms. At Ivory Silo Farm in Westport, farmers Bill Braun and Dee Levanti normally sell only to restaurants. “We want to grow and sell the same amount [as in previous years] because it’s our income, so we’re trying to figure out other sales outlets,” explained Bill. He said that will likely be direct retail sales.
In addition to loss of income, the sudden closures could have left the two with food on hand they couldn’t sell. Fortunately, they’re friendly with other area farmers who do offer retail sales, and the sudden surge in demand for local food allowed their farming friends to sell Bill and Dee’s produce. An annual plant sale in late May is another source of business for the farm. Due to the pandemic, Bill and Dee were expecting higher than usual sales this year and increased what they planted for the sale. Once some of the farm’s restaurant customers reopened and adjusted to doing take-out, they were ready to buy produce again. But that won’t be enough to make up for the closings. When restaurants do reopen, Bill and Dee are preparing for them to be operating at less than full capacity.
Another hurdle they’ll face this season is the amount of time required for marketing and online sales. “In one way, direct retail is so good for farmers because they’re getting the full price,” said Bill. “But it’s so much work and takes so much time.” “I feel lucky that we’re not in a worse situation,” commented Dee. “It’s challenging, but so many are struggling much more than us.” She also feels lucky they’re in a community that supports farmers. “The effects [of the pandemic] on the institutional food system are devastating. This situation is bringing out the weaknesses in our food system,” said Dee. She hopes it can change the food system for the better, and that the interest in local food and the relationships people are starting with smaller farmers lasts after this is over.
Local Food Interest Grows
For some farmers, increased demand for local food has been the only noticeable impact at this point. Dave Purpura of Plato’s Harvest in Middleboro hasn’t seen much change on his farm because of the virus. “For me, the impact so far hasn’t really been noticeable. I’m usually solitary and broke this time of year anyway, so this is pretty normal for me,” quipped Dave. He’s carrying on as usual—getting fields prepared, working in the greenhouse, and getting ready for the season. “The difference I have noticed is much more interest from people in local food,” said Dave. “I have a ton more interest in CSAs this year and more checks in hand than I did at this point last year.” He anticipated the CSA would be full this year and he’d be turning people away. Dave stated that people have shown up at his house looking for food.
Other farmers Dave has talked with are experiencing the same increase in demand. Normally, business on a farm doesn’t pick up until later in May or June. Because of the spike in interest, Dave did his spring planting earlier and more heavily. The pandemic has changed the way he’ll be handling distribution for the CSA. In the past, customers could pick up their share at the farm or at the Plymouth Farmers’ Market, which Dave manages. This year, for pickup day at the farm, bags will be packed and left outside for no-contact pickup.
For the market, Dave says he’ll have to wait and see how it goes. In the spring, the Plymouth Farmers’ Market was doing a virtual market, with curbside pickup at Mayflower brewing (with the bonus of getting beer at the same time). “If a month from now, we can’t conduct business as usual, a lot of farms are going to have a big problem. Farmers are seeding at a certain volume, planning field lay-out, etc. If they don’t have the usual outlets to be able to sell the food, it’ll be a problem,” explained Dave. “When the time comes, we’ll adapt and make it work.”
Adapting to the Challenges
Troy and Cindy Dickens at Tilth and Timber in Middleboro started their farm last year. While they’re both thankful they had a year under their belts before everything was turned upside down, the virus has caused them to adjust their business goals and focus for the year. Last year, their farm sold to some small restaurants, at farmers’ markets, through a CSA, and from a stand on their farm. Before the coronavirus hit, the couple wanted to double their restaurant sales. Now, they’ve thrown that goal out the window. They also don’t know what they’ll be able to sell at farmers’ markets this season. They saw winter markets close and are unsure what will happen with summer markets. This leaves them to guess where to cap their CSA and how much to set aside for markets. They used a summer market as a CSA pickup point, and that may need to change as well.
On the plus side, the couple has seen a strong interest in local food, even early in the season. Another one of their goals was to increase CSA membership, and that’s been easier to do than they anticipated. They’re not sure if it’s because of the virus or increased awareness of their farm. Even with the new members, they said it remains to be seen if the CSA increase will be enough to compensate for the loss of farmers’ market and restaurant sales.
COVID-19 also brought additional expenses and time requirements for the farmers. They had to buy large amounts of disposable gloves, plastic bags, and sanitizing products. “All these supplies come with an added cost for farms,” said Troy, “and so much more waste. We do our best to not produce plastic waste. The bags we use are compostable, but there aren’t compostable rubber gloves.” Cindy added they spent days making reusable, washable masks.
Troy and Cindy were also hesitant to open their farm stand. “We want to make sure things are safe for customers, and will move to online ordering,” explained Cindy. “Along with that is a lot of leg work on the administrative side of things to get up and running.” Cindy spent a considerable amount of time updating their website for online ordering. “It was either figure out a way we could manage it effectively or use other companies’ software, which is very expensive.”
“There’s been so much brainstorming, planning, and office work to think through everything,” said Troy. “Normally at this point in the year you’re spending time out in the field.” Troy said he’s glad they were diversified between restaurants, farmers’ markets, and their CSA, which was more by luck than due to planning. “Other farms that had all their eggs in one basket were harder hit. Those farms have had to completely change the way they do business.”
Diversification a Plus
Freedom Food Farm in Raynham grows food year-round, so farmer Chuck Currie was dismayed by the closings of the Pawtucket, RI, and Somerville Winter Farmers’ Markets in early March. “It was a little difficult at first,” said Chuck. “We’re a four season farm. Half or more of sales are during winter months. One [farmers’ market] came back after a couple weeks for pre-ordered pickup, but by that point we had already pivoted to a different system.” On learning of the market closings, Chuck quickly changed gears. The farm started offering online, pre-ordered sales for pickup at its farm store. The store is usually closed in April and May, when it has the least number of products available and farmers are busy planting. The farm also started home deliveries to Somerville area customers.
Chuck also started selling to Market Mobile, Farm Fresh RI’s food hub. Usually, Market Mobile is only for restaurants and institutions, but when the virus hit, it switched to home delivery for residential customers in the Providence area. Chuck pointed out that small farms are much more able to adapt to situations like a pandemic than larger farms and businesses. “As a small, diversified farm, due to the climate crisis we’ve have had to adapt to changing conditions over the last ten years,” he said. “Small businesses are much more able to adapt than large agribusiness and food plants. They’re just killing [their surplus] animals.”
When the farm opens for regular business, pre-orders will be encouraged. For people who don’t pre-order, it will be window service only, with a list of available food posted outside. In late spring, the farm’s CSA numbers were like last year’s, which was fine with Chuck, who said they had their hands full before the pandemic struck.
Other than changing how the farm sold its food in the spring and maybe beyond, COVID-19 won’t have much of an effect on Freedom Food Farm. “My goal has always been to operate a farm with as minimal an amount of inputs as possible, and not be reliant on outside supply chains,” explained Chuck. The goal is to reduce fossil fuels and be as self-sustaining as possible. When asked if he would change anything moving forward, Chuck answered, “We’ll have more masks on hand.”
Ivory Silo Farm
Tilth and Timber
Freedom Food Farm
Corona Effects Farmers’ Markets
Technology Keeps Farmers’ Markets Going, Virtually
In early March, farmers’ market managers faced a lot of uncertainty. By the time Governor Baker deemed farmers’ markets an essential service later in the month, many winter markets had already shuttered for the season. While some market managers decided to close, others took action to move their markets online. In early March, Lorrie Dahlen, manager of the Marshfield Farmers’ Market, still planned to have a market later that month.
As the date grew closer, she realized it wouldn’t be a good idea and started working to get vendors signed up for a virtual market. The Marshfield market was already using Market 2Day, a mobile app and online shopping and delivery service that uses farmers’ markets as distribution points. To keep everyone involved safe, they implemented no-touch delivery, with orders paid for in advance and no tipping allowed. “Initially, we feared a really bad situation for the market, but we turned it around and created a way to safely package food and let people order for delivery,” said Lorrie.
After a slow start, Lorrie convinced vendors to offer weekly deliveries instead of monthly, and the virtual market took off. Ordering closed early because vendors sold out. In late April, they added a second day of deliveries and teamed up with the Kingston Farmers’ Market to include some of its vendors.
Looking forward, Lorrie is planning to add a curbside pickup option that will function like the virtual market, with orders paid for in advance and placed in customers’ cars. She says the Marshfield market will carry on this way as long as it’s needed. If a physical market can be held later in the summer, Lorrie will continue to offer curbside pickup for high-risk customers who still don’t feel comfortable shopping in public, or for anyone who would rather shop that way. Delivery will continue to be an option as well.
The New Bedford Farmers’ Market was also helped by an online delivery system. The market is run by Coastal Foodshed, a nonprofit that also runs a mobile farm stand and offers cooking education. The pandemic caused the staff to take stock of its programs and see how they could pivot.
The farmers’ market closed for two weeks while staff turned to WhatsGood, an online marketplace that connects buyers with local food sources, to help them get a virtual market up and running. “We moved to a virtual market because we didn’t have the staff to open a market safely,” explained Stephanie Perks, Coastal Foodshed’s co-founder and co-executive director. WhatsGood trained the staff and gave them a cookie-cutter plan for how to run a virtual market.
Coastal Foodshed’s small staff is also running the mobile farm stand (more a pop-up farm stand for the time being) at an old cafe space in the southend of the city. The large cafe windows make it an ideal place for safe on-site ordering and curbside pickup. Display tables are set up behind the windows, and customers can window shop to see what’s available. Staff then take orders, go inside and pack them, and bring them out to customers.
The virtual market and farm stand allow Coastal Foodshed to continue providing the community with as much access to local food as possible during the pandemic. In Massachusetts, SNAP can’t be used online, so it’s important to the staff to keep the farm stand going. “So far, it’s working well,” said Stephanie. “We’d like to help more people, because we know we can, but we’re limited by our own capacity. There’s been a huge demand for local food since this began, which has been great to see,” added Stephanie. “People are seeing the value of local food now. They appreciate less hands touching their products.”
Further north in Braintree, the March winter market happened as usual on the first Saturday of the month, when Massachusetts coronavirus numbers were still low and life was still normal. Donna Ingemanson, the Braintree market manager, knew that wouldn’t be the case for the April market. She too used Market 2Day to hold a virtual market in April. It was Donna’s first time using Market 2Day on a large scale. As with New Bedford and Marshfield, demand for the virtual market was high and it received strong support from customers. Donna promoted the virtual market for just one day before vendors were sold out.
Understandably, Donna is unsure about the rest of the year, and beyond. “Like everyone else, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how to move forward,” she said. “We got a late start getting applications out because we didn’t know what was going on. Once Governor Baker said markets were essential, we knew we could move forward.” When the magazine went to print, Donna was planning to hold the first summer market on June 13, in partnership with Market 2Day, following new guidelines from the Mass Farmers’ Markets association and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to keep everyone safe. “Vendors are signing up and want to come back,” explained Donna. “It’s been a struggle for them financially because a lot of winter markets were canceled.”
Luckily, it seems that demand for fresh, local food will remain strong through the summer and fall, and hopefully beyond. “I think it’s woken people up that it’s important to have a local food system rather than relying on food coming in from other states and countries,” said Donna. “The boost in interest also helps microbusinesses that don’t have a storefront or are just starting out.”
Farmers’ market managers are grateful for the increased demand for local food, but also worry the new restrictions will change the social nature of farmers’ markets, which is one of their essential features. “It’s going to transform what a farmers’ market is,” worried Lorrie. “They’ll no longer be a social place. We’re not allowed have musicians, people can’t sit and eat prepared food at the market, sampling is not allowed, markets under cover will have to limit the number of people allowed, and farmers won’t have time to talk to people.”
Dave Purpura, who manages the Plymouth Farmers’ Market, voiced the same concerns about virtual markets. “This is anti-community,” he said. “It’s not the point of farmers’ markets.” Market managers understand the importance of keeping the local food supply open, especially during a pandemic, which is why they made the switch to virtual markets. But they’re looking forward to being on the other side of the pandemic, when farmers’ markets can again be a place that nourishes not just the body, but the soul too.
Marshfield Farmers’ Market
New Bedford Farmers’ Market
Braintree Farmers’ Market
Plymouth Farmers’ Market
Lauren Diggin is a local writer who last went out to eat on March 14 (not that she’s counting). She’s been supporting local restaurants, farmers, farmers’ markets, and fish markets through take-out and delivery.