By Lucy Ruscitto | Staff Writer
The closure and disruptions of shops, businesses and events across the country in accordance with the pandemic has affected many of the consumers of local establishments. However, the Waco Downtown Farmers Market continues to operate in a modified way.
This farmers market has been in functioning for more than eight years, starting by the river with a few nearby vendors, versus today’s 60 plus from all around the greater Waco area.
Due to COVID-19, the market had to make some immediate changes in late March if they wanted to remain open.
“We are currently functioning as a grocery store only, meaning no food prepared on site, no eating tables, no musicians, etcetera,” Kaitlyn Breedlove, market assistant of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, said. “We encourage customers to be as quick and efficient as possible while at market and minimize any socializing or congregating in the aisles.”
Amongst these modifications, Breedlove said the market recommends customers to preorder from market vendors if possible and to utilize options for delivery.
“We have shortened our hours from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., normally we are open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and have set up a number of safety and sanitation guidelines for our vendors to follow,” Breedlove said.
The market has also put sanitation and safety rules necessitated for vendors, and more of these regulations can be found on the Waco Downtown Farmers Market’s Facebook page.
Despite the market’s sticking around throughout the crisis, Breedlove said some vendors have still had their fair share of hardship.
“There have obviously been decreases in traffic and sales since COVID-19, which has been hard for a lot of our vendors,” Breedlove said. “Often confronted with no outlet for harvested produce, farmers have lost more than time and money, and food waste remains a significant effect of the pandemic.”
Optimistically, some sellers have had a spike in sales greater than ever before.
“A number of our vendors, especially our meat and produce suppliers, have had some of their highest sales over the past month,” Breedlove said. “Amid all the current uncertainty, I think there is a growing desire to buy local, buy direct, and [customers] are eager to find the healthiest and most nutritional options out there.”
Now more than ever, verified health and safe options are vital to everyone’s health, according to Brookings Institution.
“With food insecurity heightened, the agricultural food supply chain at risk, and local economies devastated by businesses closures, farmers markets can fill a critical health and economic gap,” the Washington, DC-based nonprofit public policy organization said.
This firsthand buying experience is what constantly brings market-goers to the parking lot on the corner of Austin and Washington Avenue.
“On average, food at a grocery store travels 1,500 miles from its harvest or production location to the shelf. Beyond the hidden ecological and economic costs of this monoculture production and transportation, produce shipped over distance is also less healthy,” Breedlove said. “Produce sold at market was typically picked the day before and has been in contact with a minimal number of people.”
Thankfully, Waco has allowed these vendors to continue to flourish.
“While the pandemic has certainly brought difficulties, we’re grateful for the support the community has offered to our vendors and proud to play a role in maintaining safe access to quality food,” Breedlove said.
Previous customers and members of both the Waco and Baylor community appreciate the market, and are grateful for its upkeep.
“Waco is very different than what I’m used to at home in Southern California, so it was nice to be able to do something fun on Saturday mornings. While I was there I noticed a lot of Baylor students there too and everyone seemed to really enjoy it,” San Juan Capistrano, Calif., freshman Grace Hanlon said.
Breedlove wants new Wacoans and Baylor Bears and longstanding residents of the area to continue to support these vendors, to keep their businesses alive and to stay safer than they would in a regular supermarket.
“The market also offers a wonderful opportunity to participate in the community of Waco and to forge connections between the university and city,” Breedlove said. “Plus, during these times the market is also a safer place to shop in terms of environment — it’s an open air venue with strict sanitation requirements.”
She said that the Waco community continues to attend the Waco Downtown Farmers Market in order to aid to sellers and be smarter and robust consumers.
“Now more than ever we need to support local businesses, and the market offers a fantastic opportunity to do that,” Breedlove said. “The small businesses in our community have responded in remarkable ways to the challenges of COVID-19, and their determination to make food accessible to the community is a reminder of how important our support is in turn.”