Farmer’s Markets Innovative Responses to The New Normal

After the pandemic hit, the quick thinking and innovation of farmers market managers across Illinois helped keep farmers in business and communities fed.

At The ALMH Market in Lincoln, market coordinator Chelsie Campbell and her team knew they needed to think creatively and act fast to make sure farmers still had access to a crucial revenue stream, and customers could be guaranteed safety at the market. The ALMH Market team took a hard look at their model and asked themselves, “What is our responsibility to our community amidst the pandemic?” 

The answer was clear — to provide healthy local food cleanly and honestly to the community. Like many other market managers, Chelsie launched an online platform for vendors to market their products and allow pre-orders from customers. Customers can place their orders online, vendors then collect the products, deliver to the market staff, who then package multiple vendors’ products in one place. On market day, customers simply drive up, pick up their order at one booth, and head back to their car. Chelsie said staff are even willing to walk orders out to the vehicle if the customer is not comfortable getting out. 

Chelsie sees this innovation in their market model as a way to not only respond to COVID-19 but also a way forward to meet the needs of a different type of customer. In an effort to deliver the full farmers market experience, the ALMH market also created take-home activity bags for children missing the community building. There is even an online space for customers to post pictures of recipes made from market items, ensuring community-building won’t go by the wayside during lockdown. The ALMH market plans to maintain this model even in a post-pandemic world. 

Many farmers’ markets are shifting to online ordering options and implementing rigid health and safety guidelines like the ALMH market. Alternatively, the Taste of Eden Market in Waukegan, in northern Illinois, decided to bypass the in-person experience altogether. 

Long before the pandemic came into play, Michael Brankin at the Eden Restoration Project dreamed of an online ordering service for fresh, local food delivered straight to your door. With the recent success of ordering services like Instacart and Postmates, Michael identified an opportunity to add convenience to local food while allowing farmers to be farmers, not delivery drivers. 

With the increased demand for local products, the Taste of Eden Market project got off the ground and is now operating in full swing. You can browse their website and select offerings from multiple vendors to place a single order. Michael and his staff then drive to the farms to pick up the products, package and deliver to your door oftentimes within the same day. 

These stories of innovation at farmers markets illustrate how to scale up access to local food, while still keeping customers safe. Many markets are following recommendations produced by the Illinois Farmers Market Association. ILFMA created the toolkit to provide farmers markets with guidelines for operating a farmers market safely during COVID-19. The guidelines have been vetted by the Illinois Department of Public Health but local health departments have final say on rules that must be followed.

National Farmers Market week on August 2-8, 2020 is a great opportunity to celebrate your local farmers market. 
You can find a farmers market near you from the Illinois Farmers Market Association map and search for products online in the Buy Fresh Buy Local Illinois directory. Grab your mask and get to a farmers market near you.