Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market adapts to pandemic
Traveling between vendors, a customer carefully tries to decide who is selling the best potatoes for a new recipe they found. While trying to determine which vendor to buy from, a burst of cold air hits signaling the end of the season for the Mount Pleasant Farmers' Market.
Twice a week Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market offers customers a way to purchase fresh produce and support local businesses.
This year the farmers’ market started later than usual - opening in June due to COVID-19. In order to comply with health and safety guidelines, the market adjusted its operation.
For Thursday markets under the pavilion at Island Park, a one-way path passes each vendor. The path starts with the vendors with the most seniority. The number of customers are tracked each day. Both customers and vendors are expected to wear face masks at all times.
“I think Mount Pleasant’s market has had a strong response to COVID-19," Chris Swier from Swier Family Farm said. "It’s had a very organized, well-defined response as far as what is expected from the vendors as well as what is expected of the customers."
Although exact numbers have not been tracked in years past, Market manager Carol Moody reports that the number of customers appears lower this year.
In years past, the busiest times for a Thursday market consisted of 1,200 to 1,500 people in a day. This year, that number is closer to 800 to 1,000 people.
“Previous years, we would count every 10 to 15 minutes and then take the average for the hours," Moody said. "I never had a previous exact headcount. The numbers are lower, but vendors are still reporting pretty comparable sales in the past."
A few vendors have actually noted an uptick in sales this year.
Renee Earle is the owner of Pineview Farm and Bakeshop in Barryton, about 40 northwest of Mount Pleasant. Earle has sold at the market for six years. She’s famous for her fresh baked cookies and experimental bread flavors.
Earle said while the summer started off slow, she’s serviced more new customers than previous years.
“Surprisingly, my business has increased, and I think the virus has people realizing how important it is to support the smaller businesses,” Earle said. “I think since it’s all outside it’s also one of the safer places to shop.”
However, for John Monahan with Happy Jack’s Kettlecorn, business has been slow for the vendor’s first year at the Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market.
“It’s been really, really slow but every market has been that way, unfortunately," Monahan said. "Financially it’s a bit of a loss, but overall it's a market we can get to and be able to put our product out there and let people know where we are at."
Numbers aside, the people who do show up get their pick at fresh produce. Swier Family Farm has been providing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for 18 years and for three years at the Mount Pleasant Farmers' Market.
People can sign up for the program before each season. Each week those who sign up are distributed a crate of food of whatever is available from their garden for 19 weeks. Swier Family Farm distributes these CSA crates at the Mount Pleasant Farmers' Market. Swier said this keeps business steady.
“It seems to me that there’s been a nice, strong response year after year (with this program)," Swier said. "This year it’s been stronger. I think people are growing more interested in knowing where their food is coming from."
For Mount Pleasant resident Andy Keller this is especially true. For the cook, buying locally is important.
“(It’s important to shop locally) because it supports the food system that we should have rather than an industrial food system," Keller said. "It’s more locally sourced, more organically and sustainably grown. It supports the ecosystem and the whole community."
The Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market takes place every Thursday and Saturday. On Thursday the market is located at Island Park-South Shelter from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Saturday on Broadway St. at Town Center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.