Wearing face masks and carrying reusable bags, customers walked around Minnetrista’s weekly farmers market May 23 — its third one since it reopened to the community as an essential business.
Vendors had their booths spread more than 6 feet apart, set up well enough to safely sell their produce while still abiding by social distancing guidelines.
Betty Brewer, president and CEO of Minnetrista, said she and her team spent four weeks creating a plan detailing all the actions they needed to take to keep their patrons and vendors safe during farmers market.
Minnetrista bought more hand sanitizing stations to supplement their hand washing stations, purchased specialized equipment, required all staff and vendors to wear masks, and limited the market to 50 people at a time.
Brewer said it felt both “good and scary” to open the Farmer’s Market as an essential business.
“This is something that proved a value to our community and we want people to use it, take advantage of it,” she said.
While she doesn’t know how things will change in the near future, Brewer said she and her logistics team will continue working as the state moves through the Gov. Eric Holcomb’s phases for reopening businesses and other regular activities in Indiana.
The farmers market, Brewer said, has been one of the oldest running social markets in East Central Indiana averaging 2,000 attendees in a typical summer. During the pandemic, their numbers were a little under 600 attendees. However, it is still providing some revenue for vendors.
First Fruits Family Farm has been selling meat at the farmers market for the past three years, said Sidney Evans, a family member who works at the farm.
When the farmers market wasn’t initially taking place, Evans said the family farm saw unexpected results in their business.
Since the pandemic, she said the farm’s sales have doubled what they would make on average in a typical season.
“People are really looking for healthier meat because they think it will help,” Evans said.
In Anderson, Indiana, she said some stores don’t sell as much meat which has helped her family business. However, she said it is hard to deal with the change because of how much the demand has increased.
While the family hopes to start selling at another market this season, she said its online sales and commitment to Minnetrista would’ve stretched the family thin.
Brett Ellison, sales and events manager at Minnetrista, said the farmers market usually hosts 40-50 vendors (15-20 during the pandemic) who must grow at least 51 percent of their own product to be eligible to sell at the market. This provides the kind of variety which will not overpower vendors and allows options for patrons.
Kaety Dent and Aimee Davis, who live about 15 miles away in Farmland, Indiana, said they appreciate the Minnetrista’s farmers market and its variety because it's something their rural community lacks.
“We live in the middle of nowhere, so the only grocery stores are 20 minutes away,” Dent said. “It's either Dollar General or go to Walmart in Winchester.”
Dent and Davis said they’ve lived in many large cities before moving to Farmland and they miss the availability of fresh foods.
While there are many farmers living in Farmland, they said the closest farmers market takes place at Minnetrista.
Davis said she has heard concerns from people that getting fresh produce is difficult without driving a long distance to purchase it.
“[It] kind of makes sense when you live in the middle of a rural farming community, so we’re trying to reach out to people all around,” Davis said. “I don't think that mindset has been there to congregate and offer to the community.”
As they shopped for some produce of their own, the two observed the structure of the farmers market so they could possibly create their own in Farmland.
Minnetrista’s farmers market will be open for its fourth weekend from 9 a.m.-noon Saturday. Brewer said she wants to continue to offer the community a space to buy fresh produce and to do so safely while enjoying everyone's company.
Contact Gabbi Mitchell with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Gabbi_Mitchell.