Most area farmers markets are open for business
Shopping Local, Safely
By MELISSA SUTTON-SENG
Photography by ALLISON POTTER
TRIPS to the farmers market are a summer-time
staple, but the novel coronavirus that
arrived in March threatened to disrupt the
2020 season. It’s certainly a different expe-rience
for shoppers and producers this year, but local
farmers markets have risen to the challenge, providing
fresh goods and a much-needed sense of community
during what has been an isolating time for many.
The COVID-19 crisis has changed local consumer
habits, notes Dave Borkowski, owner of Changin’ Ways
Farm and a co-founder of the Wilmington Farmers
Market. Producers have experienced increased demand
from farmers market customers even as wholesale
demand dropped with the closing of restaurants. In the
early weeks of the crisis, when grocery stores struggled
to keep shelves stocked, local consumers turned out at
the farmers market, which is open year-round. They’ve
kept coming even as supermarkets got their supply
chain issues resolved.
Andrew Lorek, owner of Farmage, participates in
multiple local markets. He says customers are eager to
shop and undeterred by occasional long lines. Lorek
sold out completely during the first few weeks of the
crisis and has increased the number of veggies he
brings to the markets.
The Wilmington Farmers Market, which is held every
Saturday, has met recent challenges with repeated
innovation. Usually located outside Tidal Creek Co-op,
the market had to relocate temporarily in January due
to construction of a new apartment complex on the
adjacent property, formerly home of the Cinema 6
movie theater. The market moved first to the parking
lot at Wrightsville Beach Brewery and most recently to
the grounds of Sea Gate Baptist Church.
During the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis,
the market implemented a drive-through system.
Customers in vehicles were directed into a line that
wound through the parking lot past each booth, and
vendors served their customers through car windows.
The market has transitioned again, this time to a one-way
walk-through system, with vendor tents widely
spaced on the lawn at Sea Gate Baptist.
Julie Svenson, manager of the Wilmington Farmers
Market, says turnout increased from the beginning of
the health crisis and has remained high, citing many
customers’ preference for shopping in the open air as
well as the desire to support local businesses.
“Farmers were selling out during the early days, and
they’ve worked to increase supply,” she says.
The Riverfront Farmers Market in downtown
Wilmington was the first of the summer-season mar-kets
to open this year, launching on the first Saturday
of May with a drive-through model. The market has
since transitioned to one-way foot traffic with separate
entry and exit points.
As with other public spaces, capacity is limited to
allow for physical distancing, but customers have
queued up weekly to wait their turn to walk through
and shop local.
The Farmers Market at Poplar Grove opened for
the season on the last Wednesday in May with new
health safeguards in place, including separate one-way
entrance and exit gates for foot traffic. Face masks are
required for staff and vendors, and hand sanitizer sta-tions
have been placed around the market.
Shoppers will find more options than usual.
The Southport Farmers Market, normally held on
Wednesdays, was canceled for the season so Poplar
Grove worked to accommodate additional vendors.
Even with a higher number of participants, producer
booths are spaced eight feet apart to allow ample
room for physical distancing.
The Wrightsville Beach Farmers Market opened for
the season on June 1 and has had an impressive turn-out
this year, manager Katie Ryan reports. Even during
the dreary, rainy weeks in the first half of June, more
than 100 shoppers came out to the Monday market
located on the field just behind Harbor Way Gardens.
To safeguard against COVID-19, the market asks cus-tomers
to observe the one-way flow of foot traffic as
they shop and to let vendors assist with items instead
of picking things up from displays.