There’s no denying that COVID-19 is threatening not only our health, but also our livelihoods and way of life. In Rockingham County, the top ag producer in the state, there’s no way farmers and all the businesses and households that depend on farmers for food are not hugely impacted.
A couple weeks ago, the Governor’s Executive Orders 53 and 55 deemed farmers markets ‘non-essential’ and subject to the same regulations as restaurants – preorders and pickup or delivery only. Whether or not that was the right move is a subject for debate for another day. The point is, even for restaurants, moving their entire business model to ‘curbside pickup’ is a heavy lift, but for a market, with multiple vendors with different points of sale and products, it’s a colossal lift.
When the order first came down, I was really worried. I worried for the farmers, their income and families and the produce I know is already in the ground, and I worried for the people who rely on the farmers for the food that would go to waste if it couldn’t find a way to market.
But if there’s one thing this experience is teaching us, it is that our community is tight-knit, resilient and extremely creative. Even though it seems like it’s been a really long time, in just a few weeks here’s what I’ve seen:
– A food pantry opened up specifically for foodservice workers who have been furloughed. (You’re awesome Pale Fire Helps!)
– Multiple restaurants that use local goods and produce have modified their menus to include take-and-bake or family-style items, so you can support a small business and local producers and have a ‘homecooked’ meal. (Looking at you Gray Jay Provisions, A Bowl of Good, Rocktown Kitchen and many other downtown Harrisonburg restaurants.)
– Friendly City Food Co-op is quite possibly the best stocked grocery store in town because they already got a lot of products from our neighboring farmers and producers. (Now also offering call-ahead ordering!)
– A soon-to-be new diner on the north side of downtown had to delay their opening for obvious reasons, but instead of just waiting, they’ve worked with their local producers to set up a drive-through market for produce and goods. AND you can even purchase a bag of fresh local produce to send over to Pale Fire Helps food pantry. (Can’t wait to visit you Magpie Diner.)
– Harrisonburg Farmers Market launched its first drive-up market last weekend. Again, this was a feat and shout out to JMU X-Labs and School of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication students and faculty that worked with the vendors and staff to make it happen. (SNAP shoppers, you can still grab your groceries from the market – just preorder and pay when you pick up!).
And if you have a favorite (or more than one) farmer or producer – check in with them. It may be that they are offering direct sales online or over the phone and even delivery for locals.
There’s definitely stuff I’ve missed in this list, and truly and honestly, I’d love to hear about it because it’s these stories that are getting me through and I’d love to share more.