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Norwich Farmers Market bouncing back with lower turnout, brisk business amid social distancing

  • Pamela Goldsborough, of Hartford, talks with Elizabeth Roma, of Putting Down Roots Farm in South Royalton, at the Norwich Farmers Market in Norwich, Vt., Saturday, June 20, 2020. Goldsborough was buying ingredients for a special dinner to celebrate her husband’s birthday, fathers day and the solstice. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Deb Fine, second from left, helps her son Jordan Fine apply hand sanitizer as they exit the Norwich Farmers Market in Norwich, Vt., Saturday, June 20, 2020. It was the first visit of the season to the market for Marty Fine, left, and Deb, who split their time between New York City and West Hartford, and Jordan and his girlfriend Athena Cao, who are visiting from Beijing China. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Shoppers wait in line for fresh strawberries and tomatoes at the Norwich Farmers Market in its seventh week open amidst pandemic precautions in Norwich, Vt., Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Laura Austin, of 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt., left, brings out baskets of strawberries for shopper Gigi Gallaway, of West Lebanon, middle, as Kelsey Pollard, of Grantham, right, and Marie Gray, of Newbury, foreground left, pack the more berries at the Norwich Farmers Market in Norwich, Vt., Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 6/20/2020 9:53:09 PM
Modified: 6/20/2020 9:53:07 PM

NORWICH — Gabrielle Zwain, with her 6-year-old daughter holding one hand, a tote bag of kale and green garlic in the other, and carrying her 2-year-old son on her back, had clear reasons for shopping at the Norwich Farmers Market in a face mask as temperatures soared past 80 degrees before noon on Saturday.

“The vegetables are fresh and local, and you can feel pretty good about that,” said Zwain, whose family is a recent transplant from California to Norwich. “And it’s outside and I feel more comfortable. I won’t bring them to them to the supermarket because it’s a little too enclosed and people won’t wear masks.”

The Norwich Farmers Market, which opened on a snowy May 9, has been operating under a set of social distancing guidelines the past seven weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. Much of the social aspect — the music, eating meals from food stalls, running into friends and chatting — has been suspended.

Yet many of the vendors at the market say those restrictions haven’t cut into business. In fact, they are reporting strong sales so far, a new bright spot in an economy that has fallen into recession.

“We sold 500 boxes of strawberries last week, which was a record,” said Marie Gray, a manager at 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt., as she was wrapping containers brimming with ripe, red strawberries in plastic bags on Saturday morning. “Today we don’t have as many to sell, but what we have will be sold out in a few minutes.”

As the pandemic has made consumers more aware — and wary — of the safety in the food supply chain, many Upper Valley farms’ community-supported agriculture programs are reporting are steep demand for their products.

“It’s been pretty good actually.” said Ciana Winston of Ephraim Mountain Farm in Springfield, Vt., which has been selling beef, pork and chicken at the farmers market for nine years. “People want to know where their local food is coming from.”

Nonetheless, the Norwich market is a smaller enterprise this year. Market manager Steve Hoffman said that on Saturday there were 34 vendors compared with the usual 50-plus in recent seasons. He estimated that attendance was between 300 and 400 people versus 1,000 to 2,000 people in a normal year.

So how does he explain what vendors are saying about strong sales?

“People are spending more on food now,” Hoffman said.

In order to comply with state health requirements, Hoffman organized the stalls so they are 12 feet apart and moved some into a field across the entrance drive that was previously used for parking. Hoffman said the state’s rules on social distancing have just been loosened to 6 feet of separation and prepared food will be allowed again, but they will need to operate under the same protocols as restaurants.

“There’s a local steady crowd, but we’re missing the (Dartmouth) students, the students’ parents and alumni,” said Peg Allen, who with her husband, Todd Allen, runs Savage Hart Farm in Hartford, which raises Corriedale sheep for fine wool yarn. “The local produce guys are rocking it, but it’s more difficult for the crafters.”

At 10 a.m., the line was eight people deep at the produce stall of South Royalton’s Hurricane Flats farm. Broccoli, asparagus, radishes, zucchini, mesclun and basil were already marked on the board as sold out, and only seven bunches of carrots remained

“We’re doing really well. The customers are there. It’s just we have to work harder to do it,” said Hurricane Flats owners Geo Honigford, explaining that customers tell him what they want and he has to pick it out, bag it and set the bag on a table where the customer is rung out.

“By 11 a.m. I’m filled with sweat. But I’m really happy,” Honigford said.

Although people are not required to wear a mask — “it’s recommended,” Hoffman said — most if not all people at the market on Saturday morning nonetheless sported them, which put visitors at ease.

Rhonda Murphy, of South Royalton, was strolling the market with her mother, Jane Perry, calling it “a pretty big outing for us.” It was their first visit to the Norwich Farmers Market “in years.”

“It seems pretty safe. I’m encouraged to see everyone is wearing a mask,” she said.

One vendor said she even feels like the Norwich Farmers Market has returned to its roots.

Louise Glass, a Piermont metalsmith and painter who sells handcrafted jewelry and perennial plants under the name Pandemonium Arts, said that despite fewer people at the market, “it’s been amazingly good.”

Unlike the bazaar-style atmosphere that has sometimes characterizes the Norwich Farmers Market, especially in recent years as more artisans have set up stalls, Glass said “people have slowed down with the spacing.”

“That makes it much nice for the seller,” she said. “It’s much more personal again. It’s like we’ve gotten back to what the former market was like.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews,com.




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