March 2, 2020 — “I guess it takes a pandemic for people to really appreciate their local food sources,” said Mary Shaw, president of the Florence Farmers Market.
The seasonal market resumes on Tuesday, May 12, with a new online ordering format and a drive-through pickup for fresh produce, baked goods and canned delicacies. Starting on May 5, people will be able to go to florencefarmersmarket.org to shop individual vendors and place orders.
The Florence Farmers Market joins 60 markets across the state in converting to this new method under guidance from the Oregon Farmers Market Association.
“Ever since the governor said, ‘You know what, it’s time for a stay-at-home order,’ our wonderful statewide market association brought us together on a call to try to figure out what we’re going to do,” Shaw said. “There were a lot of deer in the headlights back then, but we all muddled out way through it. We came out with our unique solution that works for our communities.”
Shaw, market manager Lia Rousset and the rest of the market team have been working to follow state and local guidelines as they map out what an online market will look like. They selected What’s Good as an ordering platform, and the link to preview options will be available soon.
“A pretty big number of markets around the state are doing an online platform now,” Shaw said. “We’re all on the same page with What’s Good, which means we have a good support system.”
“Also, it has a good track record,” Rousset added. “Some of those markets are having real success.”
In fact, Shaw said that some Oregon markets have been using online ordering as an alternative or addition to walk-in markets for several years.
“It’s reasonably simple for the vendors to get set up and it works well for the customer,” she said. “And the price is right. So we’re going to try it.”
To order online through What’s Good, customers will select items from each vendor’s menu and pay for their purchases. Then, they will be scheduled between 4 and 6 p.m. each Tuesday to pick up their orders.
On market days, customers will drive into the parking lot on the west side of the Market site, located right next to Veterans Memorial Park on Bay Street, pass the Lotus building, and pick up their purchases at each vendor’s vehicle on the east side of the parking lot.
No one will need to get out of their car as vendors or volunteers will place the customer’s pre-labeled order in their car for them. There will be no on-site cash or credit card sales, and all orders must be made the Sunday before each market day.
People planning to use their SNAP benefits to purchase food are advised to come to the Market Manager booth at the market. There, they will be walked through how they will be able to shop for fresh foods and utilize the market’s special “Double Up Food Bucks” offer.
According to Rousset, “People who use their SNAP benefits at our market get to double their money, up to $10.”
This resource multiplier has been available since the first market, but “I’m expecting that that is going to be as important as ever, and then some, at this juncture,” Rousset added.
Last year, the May to October market season provided local food to approximately 400 people spending an average of $9,250 at each market.
“Most of our vendors are returning, so that’s exciting,” Rousset said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to add the other vendors who aren’t usually there at the beginning of the season — like blueberries, for instance. We also have a fish guy who is interested in vending with us. But our core vendors are all going to return to us with this online platform.”
These include vendors of produce, fruit, eggs and meat.
“It’s more than just farmers, it’s also local producers of all kinds,” Shaw said, describing a Yachats vendor who grows certified organic mushrooms and a vendor who makes fermented shrubs, which can be added to beverages.
Under the governor’s guidance, farmers markets are considered essential. For Shaw, she thinks there are several reasons for that.
“Normally, I would be talking about how markets are a community gathering place and how they are so much more than food,” she said. “But under the circumstances, they are all about food. Part of the governor’s edict is that farmers markets only, at this time, have food at their markets. For us, that’s the way we roll anyway.”
“Meaning we don’t have art or crafts at our market,” Rousset clarified.
The Florence Farmers Market did often include music, informational booths and a chance to build rapport with vendors, who come from within 60 miles of the Siuslaw region.
“The value of our farmers market at this time will be to bring local food into our community,” Shaw said. “The sales at markets all over the state are just skyrocketing. … Since our market has been highly successful, our vendors in particular are growing. They have upped their production to meet the needs of Florence. We really want to honor that and have a marketplace for them.”
The What’s Good online ordering platform is designed for ease of use for both the customers and the vendors. Plus, one market volunteer is already ready to help farmers and producers get their product online.
“I feel pretty confident that there will be the support that’s needed,” Rousset said. “I’m sure it’s going to be clunky. We’re all going to be learning the first couple of markets, but I feel confident that people will be pleased with the final results of it as we go along.”
Shaw agreed, saying, “This first couple of markets will be a ‘soft opening,’ meaning that we want to do a really good job with the logistics at the market. As we begin to feel more confident, we have more new vendors that can be added.”
Since the online platform was announced in April, “The community response is very, very positive,” Shaw said. “We’re very respectful and appreciative of the precautions that our city is taking and we certainly want to be in line with those.”
Changes come amid the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty on reopening the economy.
For Rousset, “There’s also an area concern for people losing their jobs and not having access to as much money and resources as they would normally have for getting food. We’re expecting some pretty high demand in the Oregon Trail arena. One of the things our market is proud of is a really robust participation and interest in serving that group of people. Basically, fresh food access for all people.
“We’re here to support those people, and the farmers as well. The farmers are part of that concern group. We want to be able to support our community as a whole.”
The Double Up program is one way to maximize access to local foods. Florence Farmers Market pays for the program through donations and local grants, including United Way’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund, which awarded the market a $1,500 grant.
“If people want to donate to the Double Up program — because we do need to raise funds in order to have that program — we have ways to help support smaller businesses who want to do that, including signage and being a part of the newsletter,” Rousset said.
The Florence Farmers Market is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit, so donations are tax deductible.
The market team made the choice after two successful market seasons under guidance from the Siuslaw Vision.
“When the market was just a dream to a small group of dedicated foodies including a member of the Vision team, we went to the Vision and asked for help creating the market,” Shaw said. “They were very supportive with advice, grant writing, monetary support, graphic design work and also connecting the market in the community.”
The two entities maintain a strong connection, but the Vision considers the market as a graduate program.
“Without the Siuslaw Vision, it is very questionable whether or not the market would have happened,” Shaw said. “While we still have a fine working relationship with the Vision, we are now on our own so to speak. Their initial support was invaluable and we are forever grateful.”
The market now has a small board of directors, with Shaw as president.
“But the heart and driving energy force of the market is the market team,” she said.
Fifteen people are affiliated with that team, and many started with the market in 2017.
“That longevity really serves us well when we need to get things done,” Shaw said. “And we’re a fun group. We have a really good time.”
This includes the sharing of recipes on how to make tasty dishes from local produce. Many of these recipes were shared at previous markets, including preparations for kale and how to make pesto from garden herbs.
“When we’ve had the market up and running, we had live cooking demonstrations,” Shaw said. “We have quite the catalog of wonderful recipes that we can pull from.”
The online ordering platform will allow the Florence Farmers Market team to reach out to the community through email.
“We are planning on a weekly newsletter that will include recipes, news about the market and reminders,” Rousset said. “Hopefully as things start to go skipping along, we can start adding an education component. We’re hoping to have it be something people look forward to getting week after week.”
The newsletter will also be a way to show how the Florence Farmers Market is minimizing contact for market attendees, eliminating lines, and adding monitors for each vendor booth and hand wash stations.
People who wish to get involved with the market should talk to Rousset for information on volunteering opportunities at [email protected] This is also where people can inquire about donating to the Double Up program.
“We have plenty of volunteer needs, so we’d be happy to have people be a part of the fun,” Rousset said.
Shaw laughed. “All they’ll need is a cute face mask.”
As the season progresses, the market team is aware that restrictions could be lifted or changed as additional rules from federal, state and city guidelines shift.
“When the time is right, we hope to resume our open-air market, in successive steps with city guidance, and welcome everyone back to our market site,” the team said in a press release.
“We had big plans, but this year big plans are on the shelf for the time being. But we’ll get back to them,” Shaw said. “We are reinventing ourselves, is what we’re doing.
“So far, so good.”
For up-to-date information on the market, and to see when the What’s Good ordering link goes live, visit florencefarmersmarket.org and follow the market’s social media.