Farmers markets are a summer staple for many Rivertown residents, offering a range of organic products as well as chance to mix with others. After Covid-19’s arrival last year, many businesses close down. This left people wondering: What would happen to the beloved farmers markets?
The markets were able to run without interruption but many adjustments had to be made. Down to Earth Farmers Market in Ossining, the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow Farmers Market (The TaSH), and Pleasantville Farmers Market received instructions from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. Masks were required, social distancing and hand wash/sanitizing stations were mandatory. All three markets suspended children’s activities and live music, and no one could touch the food.
“This was difficult in a farmers market where people like to come in and pick up the apple themselves and feel the melon and decide what they want to buy,” said Dacotah Rousseau, Down to Earth Markets’ managing director. Each market had to change their setup dramatically. Sampling the products was no longer allowed. “There were quite a lot of changes but we were able to still open and do business and that was a relief,” said Rousseau.
Pleasantville Farmers Market set up an online ordering system. Peter Rogovin, president of Foodchester, a community-based nonprofit that manages the Pleasantville market said, “Online sales exploded during the time. There wasn’t really a great solution. … We really wanted an experience that replicated shopping at our market.”
Pleasantville found a platform that was easy to use, not expensive, included all vendors and was fair to farmers. This online alternative helped safety measures and also was convenient. Pleasantville’s market is going to continue its online feature as long as there is enough demand. “Before Covid our market was very experiential,” Rogovin said, “People would come and they would stay for hours. … because of Covid [the market] became very transactional.”
Pre-ordering was now available at TaSH and Pleasantville, allowing shoppers to buy products ahead of time, which helped farmers plan their profitability and minimize waste. During the summer of 2020, all three markets opened as planned. Their businesses did very well. Because
people were more comfortable with the safer outdoor setting than grocery stores, there was a great demand.
“We had a lot of people who were either interested in starting a new business because they weren’t working their regular job or they had been doing a food business on the side and a full-time job and now they had the time to put into developing their food business,” said Rousseau. “There was interest from new vendors, so that was great.”
TaSH opened a drive-through market, a curbside pickup, and an early shopping hour for elderly citizens and those with health conditions. In 2020, TaSH shoppers spent nearly $500,000, which went directly back to local farms and small businesses. Annie Cauthren, a volunteer, said: “People decided to come to our market and spend their dollars at the TaSH, supporting small business owners. That money did not go to big box retailers or corporations, it stayed right here in our local economy, which is really critical.”
With Covid -19 infections slowing down, fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask in New York. Because Down to Earth Markets are outdoors, anyone who either wants to wear a mask or is not fully vaccinated will wear one. “Other people have to be on the honor system,” Rousseau said. Rogovin, from Pleasantville Farmers Market, said: “We will not let vendors take their masks off unless they show vaccination cards.”
Customers in Ossining and Pleasantville are able to touch the products and pick their own fruits and vegetables. Children’s activities, live music and sampling products, will not resume immediately at those markets because of social distancing rules. However, TaSH will offer socially distant children’s activities.
TaSH Farmers Market, Down to Earth Farmers Markets and Pleasantville Farmers Market want to make the environment as safe as possible and ensure that people are not crowding.
Farmers Markets’ 2021 Saturday Season
· Down to Earth (Ossining): 8:30am to 1pm year-round. Parking lot near the corner of Spring and Main Streets.
· Pleasantville: Saturdays through November, 8:30am to 1pm in10 Memorial Plaza, in the Metro-North parking lot.
· Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow Farmers Market (TaSH): Saturdays from 8:30am to 1:30pm in Patriots Park.
Maya Phillips is an Irvington resident and rising junior at The Masters School. She focuses on linking media and social justice at the grass-roots and worldwide.