Things are not business as usual at local farmers markets, and the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic is to blame.
In Suwanee, the booths are spread far apart to encourage social distancing and reduce the chances that crowds of people will gather in a single spot.
In Snellville, the market is being done with a contactless drive-thru format.
Over in Lilburn, shoppers have to place their orders online a few days before picking it up.
“The customers enjoy it because the guy who planted it is the guy who picked it and the guy who sold it so there was less people handling the items that they were purchasing, so it cuts out a lot of extra human touches to the items that are available at the market,” Suwanee Events and Outreach Manager Amy Doherty said of the benefit of a farmers market format in the age of COVID-19.
The changes at farmers markets around Gwinnett are just one way life has been upended and forced to change because of the pandemic. But, organizers also see them as a valuable asset in an age where runs of grocery stores have left shelves empty.
They serve as another place to get food.
“The good thing is it’s giving another option for people to get food,” Doherty said. “It’s also giving people the option to support a local grower. It’s locally harvested and locally produced so it kind of helps keep our economy going.”
A more spread out market in Suwanee
The Suwanee Farmers Market has many of the things a person could get at a grocery store, from produce and honey to beef and pork.
Doherty said the city already had a monthly winter farmers market scheduled for the week many businesses and offices began to shut down in March.
“We did not cancel it because it gave people an option to get food, and the farmers market always has meat and farm fresh eggs, and honey and some fresh baked goods and then we have vendors that sell other things,” Doherty said. “It’s all of these consumable goods.”
As the city was preparing to switch to its summer farmers market, officials approached the vendors and asked about increasing spacing between booths. The idea was to put more than 10 feet of space between the booths, which normally would have been located side-by-side.
Doherty said they ultimately put about 15 to 20 feet of space between the booths.
“We were lining the vendors up, so we would have a booth, then skipping two parking places and then adding another booth, so the market went from being 22 parking space, to literally being spread out (from the outer part of the town green) all the way down to our fountain area where we could allow that good 20 feet between each booth space so that the farmers not only were spaced out for their own safety, but it also allowed customers a chance to kind of line up and not have to crowd each other while waiting to purchase items.”
The city also started its weekly summer farmers market, which normally would have started this month, earlier to accommodate a need for food in the community.
“After we got to the end of March, we decided to offer the farmers a chance to come weekly because food was always considered an essential item so we knew that we were OK to have that market,” Doherty said.
Many farmers at the market do wear gloves and masks, as requested of city officials. Some vendors do take pre-orders as well so shoppers can order in advance and then just show up to pick up their groceries and leave.
There is also less touching of the goods encouraged as well.
“(Vendors) ask the customers to point to what they want,” Doherty said. “It used to be that you picked up stuff and kind of checked it out. Now there’s just less people touching it.”
And just as produce vendors can tout less human touches on their goods, Doherty said the meat vendor at the Suwanee market offers a similar benefit.
“It was a farmer who went to a processor who got the meat in an environment that’s inspected, and he’s the same farmer who brought it back to sell it here,” Doherty said.
Suwanee’s market takes place 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at the Suwanee Town Center green.
Drive thru shopping in Snellville
Snellville was recently highlighted in a Georgia Grown video for its approach to running a farmers market.
The market is set up to reduce contact between shoppers and vendors as much as possible, while still making sure residents have access to fresh produce and other goods. They just have to stay in their car the entire time.
“We have every vendor, of course, wearing a mask and gloves,” Snellville City Councilwoman Gretchen Schulz said in the video. “We have (shoppers) coming through with their trunk up so the vendor can just put the products right in the trunk and then as they exit the market, they can stop and close their trunk so there is no contact.”
Pearson Farms’ John Short said shoppers also have a variety of options for paying too, although electronic forms of payment are preferred to reduce contact as well.
“Cash is no longer king, but we are accepting it and we are letting people get their own change and we don’t have to touch anything,” he said. “And then we provide hand sanitizer for them.”
Schulz said, “We’re trying to do everything we can to make it as safe as we can.”
Snellville’s market takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays at Snellville City Hall.
Lilburn using an online format
The Lilburn Farmers Market is taking its own unique approach this year to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is doing things differently from Suwanee and Snellville in that shopping for its market is done online and then picked up on Fridays.
Shoppers at the Lilburn Farmers Market do their shopping by midnight on Wednesday at www.lilburnfarmersmarket.org. They can then pick up their order’s on Friday, from 4 to 6 p.m., at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, which is located at 1400 Killian Hill Road in Lilburn.
“Farmers Markets are considered essential businesses and now more than ever folks are looking for clean, local foods with less handling,” organizers of the market said in an announcement about the new format. “The Lilburn Farmers Market has always supported local and small businesses and we want to continue to support these vendors as well as bring safe, local foods to the Lilburn Community.”