National Farmers’ Market Week takes place Aug. 2-8, 2020. Farmers’ markets across North Carolina offer communities access to fresh, nutritious food, while also stimulating local economies. National Farmers’ Market Week is a time to celebrate those who produce fresh foods in our state. Whether you visit a roadside stand or the State Farmers’ Market, take time this week to support local growers while receiving fresh food in return.
Organizers hoped this year would be a banner year for the Hickory Farmers Market as it prepared to celebrate its first year being open year-round, but despite the global pandemic, vendors still have plenty to celebrate as the market continues to serve its community.
To farmers like Shiloh Avery of Tumbling Shoals Farm, farmers markets are essential for their businesses.
“Seventy-five percent of our income comes from the farmers markets. It’s a huge deal that the markets are open,” she said. “Honestly, opening the market was life or death for our business.”
This season marks the certified organic vegetable farms’ 13th year at the Hickory Market.
While Tumbling Shoals had shifted some of its planned production over to pre-sold boxed shares of its harvest or a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA), being at the Hickory Farmers Market and the Watauga County Farmers Market will determine the farm’s success, Avery said.
She remembers the first week the market opened after COVID-19 became a concern here and wondering what would happen.
“It was completely unknown. We didn’t know if anyone would come out at all. It was a nerve wracking and nail biting time,” she said. “We wondered if we were going to be able to survive as a farm.”
Like most businesses, farmers markets across the state have had to look closely at their operations and make some changes to be able to follow the guidelines and recommendations to operate these essential businesses.
The Hickory Farmers Market was no different said Kim Bost, market manager. Over the winter, vendors had been set up in a space with a local soup kitchen, but they moved outside once the pandemic hit to provide more area for social distancing.
From the beginning, the market took the pandemic seriously, requiring masks and gloves for vendors, and providing hand sanitizer around the market, Bost said.
“We were a bit ahead of the curve on mandatory masks, but we wanted to make sure our customers would feel as safe and comfortable as possible,” she said, which is a strategy that seems to be paying dividends for the local farmers.
Bost said she has received many comments and compliments from shoppers who are happy to see the vendors wearing masks.
Interest in buying local has been strong and that has translated to good sales days at the market, including several earlier in the season where vendors sold out of all of their products, she said.
The market operates Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 330 Main Avenue NW in Hickory and features a good variety of products from the traditional seasonal fruits and vegetables to more specialty items including locally grown mushrooms from Catawba Mushroom Partners, fresh-cut flowers by Summer Fresh Flower Farm, gluten-free baked goods from Baking Creations by Dana, goat cheese from Blue Goat Dairy, local meats from several farmers and organic produce from Tumbling Shoals Farm.
“This is a market with a good variety, at all price points with something for everyone,” Bost said.
“You can get beef, pork, lamb, chicken, organic vegetables, conventional vegetables, bread, soap. For the size of the market, it’s really, really diverse,” Avery said. “To get that kind of diversity, you typically have to go to a much larger farmers market.”
A few crafters have recently returned to the market, and Bost said there has even been a few food trucks and a return of local music, which helps remind shoppers of pre-COVID market days.
But vendors and shoppers alike are not letting down their guard. “They are all doing what they have to do and it is instilling confidence in our customers,” Bost said. “This market is a wonderful community gathering place. Although we have had to discourage that a little, we can’t wait to get back to being the community hub that we have been.”