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Farmers markets see positive outcome after being forced into innovation

Posted at 1:34 PM, Jan 29, 2021

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — Dozens of chickens at Aspen Moon Farm in northern Colorado provide eggs for thousands of people in its community.

Every week, the eggs are sold through the county’s farmer’s market. Farm Manager Josh Olsen says ordering food through the market is a great way to support your community.

“It’s going directly into the family’s pocket and to the local economy,” Olsen said.

Considering farmers markets are typically a place where many people gather, a lot has changed since the start of the pandemic. Boulder County Farmers Markets went online.

“All of the sudden instead of having the vegetables speak for themselves, photos had to be taken, descriptions had to populated into these online platforms,” Olsen said.

Going online is something Boulder County Farmers Markets Executive Director Brian Coppom says they always intended to do. Along with it, curbside pickup, and a lot of logistics to figure out.

“It took purchasing box trucks, refrigerated trucks, we had to purchase walk-in coolers, freezers, tables, sanitation equipment, PPE, we had to invest in simple things like thermometers and pulse oximeters to check the staff on a regular basis,” Coppom said.

Through many months of trial and error, Coppom says they’ve nearly perfected the process. He’s eager to share their success with other farmers across the country. That’s where Farmers Market Coalition comes into play.

“We really like to create this network for farmers market operators to communicate with each other," Farmers Market Coalition's Hannah Fuller said. "And we’ve heard from a lot of those operators that that network has been really important for sharing expertise but also just not feeling alone in this really unique position in running a farmers market.”

Hannah Fuller says the coalition conducted a surveylast summer and found approximately one fourth of farmers markets had moved their operations online. Others have continued in-person shopping with social distancing and sanitation protocols. Stephanie Fenty, who is also with the Farmers Market Coalition, says farmers' resiliency became clear when there was a shortage of food at grocery stores.

“A lot of things weren’t available just because the food chain was basically failing during a national emergency," Fenty said. "And that really showed the importance of local food systems because at that time, we saw local food sales dramatically increase.”

There’s more than one silver lining. In Boulder County, going online has opened a wide range of possibilities. A season that would typically end in October has continued throughout the winter months. Now people can order and pick up all year round.

“There are root vegetables – storage crops – crops that keep during the winter," Coppom said. "So there’s onions and potatoes and radishes, and daikon radishes and rutabagas.”

Coppom says farmers markets have grown a lot from the pandemic and he hopes the new systems continue even after we get back to some sense of normalcy – giving more people access to healthy and delicious local food.

“The closer we are as a community to the source of our food, the more we’re tied together and the more meaningful those dinner parties become,” Coppom said.