Newark Farmers Market opens during quarantine
For the first time since the closure of the state, the Newark Natural Foods-sponsored community farmers market was open for business this Sunday.
Mask-wearing local farmers proudly displayed lush displays of fresh greens. It was months of waiting for some of these growers, and they were happy to finally get their goods to market.
A crowd of socially distanced buyers flocked to the stalls, moving at six-foot intervals through the Disney World-like line that meandered safely through the market. Many people were happy to make this trip not only because of the tasty local produce but just for a chance to be outside and shop, a reminder of simpler times before quarantine.
Katherine Holman, a local Newark resident, works at Newark Natural Foods, the local co-op that sponsors the farmers market. She wore a blue mask with flowers and was guarding the beginning of the market line like a lifeguard at the top of a water slide, sending in customers two at a time to limit closeness.
Holman was happy to have the doors open again, despite the restrictions. Though the market is separate from the co-op, it is a vital source of income for some of the farmers, Holman said.
“The governor told us we were allowed to open on the 15th, and we tried to get ready to open as soon as we could,” Holman said. “It’s good for the farmers, it’s good for the customers.”
Listening to the bustle of commerce, one could tell Holman was right. Customers and farmers appeared happy to make small talk again in a time when even chatting about horseradish fulfilled a basic need for social interaction — something hard to do cooped up at home.
“People aren’t used to confinement, I mean that’s what prison is all about,” a man named Ray said. Ray was selling his locally made honey and preferred to omit his last name. “[Confinement] has a psychological effect after a while. In our society, we’ve never realized how much freedom we had.”
Ray said that while his honey business was doing fine because “honey doesn’t go bad.” These restrictions were hurting other produce growers. Though the shutdown was necessary to combat the health crisis, Ray said it has been hard to live with. He believes that the only way for the government to handle the pandemic was through an excess of caution. Opening up the country should look like what the food market was doing — slowly and safely setting up shop.
It seemed clear then that locals were not just there for the small talk, but were taking their first steps back toward normalcy. These were people asking questions and discovering where the food they were buying came from. They were regulars who are drawn to local agriculture for its more intimate and trustworthy environment.
Deborah Carlisle said she has grown local produce to sell at the market for 20 years. She and her husband Wayne Carlisle live in northeastern Maryland about 25 minutes away.
“Can’t get any more local than that,” Carlisle said. “You know it’s not coming from California or Mexico or anywhere like that, it’s coming from right next door.”
Carlisle went on to talk about missing her son, Kenny. Kenny’s wife, Danielle, delivered twins in September. Carlisle said she missed her grandchildren that she hadn’t seen for months, except over Skype.
Carlisle said she started selling flowers at the farmers market decades ago. Her stall, “Deborah’s Flower Shop,” was one of the three original vendors at the weekly market. Now, where more than 35 vendors normally flock to the market, only ten stalls were open on Sunday.
Carlisle said that in all of her years, there has never been a disruption to her business like this.
“It has been affecting business a lot, and it is very frustrating,” Carlisle said. “But, you know we are pushing through and trying to work through it all.”
Brett Herzog from Endless Futures Farms in Clayton, Delaware said he was also happy to be back selling. This was the first day in months he was able to sell anything and planned on June 1 based on a prior estimate. He said he wasn’t entirely ready to bring his crops out and needed two weeks of preparation.
“A lot of the crops aren’t even ready yet,” Herzog said. “It’s a whole new world we’re gonna have to learn on the fly, but there’s been a lot of support of people coming in today.”
Herzog talked about different approaches the farmers in his community were taking to keep up sales in the pandemic. A close friend, for example, was selling his crops in an online shop and finding unbelievable success.
“He never thought it would be that good,” Herzog said. “It’s the best season he has ever had just because people are willing to buy local more than ever, where they know where the food is coming from.”
The next stall down was a cornucopia called the Farm Stuff run by Nottingham, Pennsylvania farmer Mandy Lamborn, who has made online shopping a priority. An old door served as a menu board showing the price of spinach, along with a website address, the company’s Venmo for mobile payments and a pre-order telephone line for community deliveries. Lamborn said that her business had an online presence before the pandemic because of taking part in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
CSA is an alternative market style where farmers sell their goods directly to consumers. The advocates of this 1992 trend say it promotes responsible environmental agriculture. Members of a CSA “subscribe” to farms by contributing financially, and in return receive a monthly or weekly delivery of eggs, fruit or whatever the farm grows.
“Some people, you know, are so worried about coming out and that the markets are closed; it’s been a bit iffy,” Lamborn said. “But that’s worked out really well, you know; I’ve done CSA for 13 years.”
CSA deliveries are planned out at the beginning of the year, Lamborn said, and in that way, CSA subscribers and farms were not dramatically affected by the pandemic.
“I personally think it’s the only way people should shop,” Lamborn said.
As Lamborn posed with her employees for pictures, they laughed to themselves for feeling awkward with covered faces. Carlisle said she shared the sentiment. She pointed to her whiteboard, which exclaimed, “It’s great to be back today!” with a smiley face.
“Even when wearing a mask, I’m just so used to smiling,” Carlisle said.