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How Farmer's Markets are adapting to stay open during pandemic

Posted at 10:48 AM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 18:26:40-04

Bill Brown and Wesley VanScoy were the first people to set up at the Worthington Famer's Market on April 25. The duo drove about two hours from their respective farms north of the city. "Our entire model is based off of direct-to-consumer sales," Brown said.

Brown owns and operates Brown Bros. Farm in Stark County. He has raised turkeys there since 2011. For nearly a decade, he's been selling poultry in area farmer's markets. The partnership with Wesley VanScoy is new. The VanSoys raise beef, harvest hay and raise hydroponic vegetables. VanScoy's family's farm in Ridgeway is a staple at the Worthington Farmer's Market.

Weekend farmer's markets mean big business for the two young farmers.

For one weekend in March, the market stopped.

"When we lost the farmer's market we lost, essentially, our entire revenue base, instantaneously," Brown said.

The market's board of directors was unsure of how to continue with the changes imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I didn't think we'd get shut down like that. I was wrong. I was dead wrong on that. But it was definitely devastating," VanScoy said.

Brown, who sits on the board, reached out to markets in and out of Ohio for options.

"The drive-thru model has made it so we can continue to operate and sell our product," he said.

The market near Columbus was only closed for one weekend. Now, people here can support local farmers from the comfort of their cars.

The market moved from a mall parking lot to the city's community center. Vendors are spaced farther apart, and no money is exchanged. Everything is ordered beforehand through individual farmers online. Customers hang a sign in one window that lists the vendors they need to visit and any order information needed.

The market is highly orchestrated. Groups of volunteers direct traffic through a maze of orange cones and make sure the line does not back up on any main streets.

"I think they have some quirks to work out to make it a little more efficient, but I think what they've laid out works really well," said Paul Pepper. He was sitting in his car at the back of a line waiting to pick up his order.

Katie Hughes and her family were in the car behind Pepper. She likes the new idea but misses the interaction.

"We're not going to be able to walk around, and we're certainly going to miss that because we live really close," she said. "But I'm glad we'll still be able to get local."

Everything happens quickly. Cars pull up perpendicular to Brown's refrigerated truck, open their trunk, say a brief "hello" then move on.

For VanScoy, the community aspect is still there despite the gloves, masks and physical barrier.

"They've had the same trials you've had," he said about talking with other farmers at the market. "It makes you feel better that it's not just you that's had a hard week or a really good week. You can have that connection. It's like a network of like-minded professionals."

This pre-order model also helps farmers like VanScoy who have a wide range of products. He said it cuts down on waste because he knows exactly how much to bring.

But the new model meant a quick pivot to an online ordering system he didn't have in place. That is when Brown reached out. Customers can purchase VanScoy's products in Brown's online marketplace. Each order is boxed and kept cold before customers pick it up.

VanScoy said the new purchase and market models are starting to pay off. His meat sales have increased.

"With all the uncertainty in the world, they want to know who is growing their food," he said.

Brown knows the change may not have worked out. He told News 5 several smaller markets decided not to open at all.

He said the Worthington market could stay with the drive-thru model for the entire summer season.

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