Vendors at Nelsons’ Farmers’ Market feel varying effects of the market’s COVID-19 closure.
The vendors that constitute Nelson’s Farmers’ Market in Nellysford, Virginia, were each impacted very differently when the market remained closed at the start of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the vendors and the market itself have adapted in response to new restrictions, lack of availability of on-site selling opportunities, and a change to the traditionally social atmosphere of a farmers’ market.
Nelson’s Farmers’ Market brings together over 50 local Virginia farmers, artisans and musicians every Saturday morning in May through October. From 8 a.m. through noon customers browse homemade and homegrown goods under a large white tent in Nellysford, Virginia, while a selected local band fills the background with music.
Vendors who bring their homegrown and homemade goods to the market include:
Carolyn Stone started Nelson’s Farmers’ Market in 1997 with the goal of creating a space for locals to gather, socialize, and purchase quality produce, baked goods, plants, and art. She and her husband Bob Taylor are still involved with the local music at the market as members of a 1930s and 40s band called the Quintessential Quartet.
Tim and Pearl Marsh currently serve as the market’s managers, and four farmers and one crafter fill the roles on the board. Vendors pay a $120 annual fee and 5 percent of sales each week in exchange for a spot at the market. Vendors can also choose a weekly $10 space fee instead of the annual $120.
Recently, however, Nelson’s Farmers’ Market looks different than it has the previous 23 years.
The market did not open for the season on its usual May 2 date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the market did eventually reopen in mid-June, new procedures and guidelines for both customers and vendors were put in place. Ropes and signs section off one-way foot traffic through the space. The market requires both customers and vendors to wear masks at all times.
Vendors must wear disposable gloves or sanitize their hands after each transaction. In an effort to accommodate all customers, some vendors take pre-orders that are delivered on Saturdays.
While these measures are in place to comply with Governor Northam’s executive order and for the safety of everyone visiting the market, vendors pointed out their effect on the market’s atmosphere and culture.
“The market used to be more of a social affair,” Taylor said. “COVID-19 has cut down on the amount of time that people spend here.”
COVID-19 has impacted not only the feel of the market but also, more tangibly, the vendors’ sales.
John Penderson, owner of Verdant Acres Farm, in Raphine, Virginia, said his farm lost 90 percent of its sales due to the market not reopening as usual.
“It was pretty bad,” Penderson said. “It’s only our second year of farming, and we do strictly farmers’ markets to try to get our faces out.”
Penderson said he made use of his time during the shutdown, sending a lot of emails, trying out a drive-through farmers’ market, and, most recently, joining a farmers’ market website. However, he said the website was not successful for him because it set a price range that undervalued his goods. Penderson later joined a farmers’ markets coalition in pushing a petition to Governor Northam asking that farmers’ markets be recognized as essential businesses.
The local music industry has suffered from the closure of Nelson’s Farmers’ Market as well. Taylor and Stone’s Quintessential Quartet, which has played at the market for ten years, now rehearses socially distanced and has temporarily closed their home stage, Rapunzel’s Coffee & Books.
“The overall effect on the music industry is that we can’t land any indoor gigs,” Taylor said. “We keep rehearsing just to stay sane.”
However, not all vendors have felt the effects of COVID-19 as hard as Penderson. Kristi Ginter of Ginter Family Farms has only been selling at Nelson’s Farmers’ Market for two years and said she didn’t notice a difference in her overall sales. Her farm opened an online store during the shutdown to make up for the loss of sales at on-site markets.
Rick Schall, who says he is at the market for the social aspect, also said he didn’t suffer during the shutdown.
“I do this because I like to do it, not to make a living,” Schall said.