Two months into its online ordering approach, farmers market vendors are still adjusting

Article and photos by Tristan Lorei, contributor

Since shifting to an online ordering system for its weekly Saturday markets, the Harrisonburg Farmers Market vendors have faced new challenges. Some have opted out of participating and many of those that haven’t, have experienced slower business than a normal June.

In early April, the market switched indefinitely to an online system for their weekly Saturday markets. 

The orders are alphabetically organized by last name.

Customers now place orders online through the farmers market’s website. The market, in conjunction with JMU’s X-Labs, developed this system in time for the market to reopen April 11 after one week of trying a socially-distant market and two weeks of being closed because of the pandemic

Orders must be submitted by 10 a.m. Friday. Each Saturday morning, customers are asked to display their names in their windows to allow the runners, the volunteers who load the bags into the cars, to easily identify them without them having to make contact. The orders are placed in brown paper bags and placed on tables in alphabetical order by the customers’ last name.

“It’s actually been really easy to keep track of everything,” Rebecca Ryan, of Ryan’s Fruit Market said. “We have volunteers that really help us [by] putting things in the bags for everybody and running. So, it’s been really organized.” 

Rebecca Ryan, of Ryan’s Fruit Market, organizes some of her products before the start of the market.

The new system has also brought on new challenges for the market. Some vendors have opted out of participating and many of those that haven’t, have experienced slower business than a normal June.

Patrick and Rebecca Ryan have been able to sell other products, such as their flowers, while they wait for their fruit to be in season which they think will help with sales. For them, business has been up and down since the start of the pandemic. 

“It’s been kind of like a roller coaster … We were actually busier than normal starting out. We had, I think, three weekends in a row that were the single three busiest April market days I’ve ever had.” Patrick said. “[Then] the last couple markets have been slow but, I mean, I’m still making some money so, I can’t complain too much.”

For Anna Long, from Long Roots Farms, the shift has been positive. With the Harrisonburg farmers market moving online, Long said she can reach people the business otherwise wouldn’t.

Anna Long, of Long Roots Farm, guides traffic during the farmers market.

“Online has been a nice pivot because we can still get our product to everyone and we’ve been able to even reach, kind of, farther just because with [everything] going online it kind of helped with that shift,” she said.  

Josie Showalter, manager of the farmers market, said the market will remain online indefinitely until COVID-19 clears. She said she believes it’s safer to stay with the online-ordering system even though some markets in Virginia still operate as traditional walk-through markets. 

“It’s much harder to try to manage that,” Showalter said. “To really, truly honor the guidelines, I see it as really close to impossible. I don’t want to put our market or myself in that position.”

Josie Showalter, the manager of the Harrisonburg farmers market, checks through the list of the customers orders before the start of the market.

Steven and Leanne Benner have come to the Harrisonburg farmers market for five years and have enjoyed the new system. Last Saturday, they rode their bicycles through the market to pick up what they purchased through the online system for the first time.

“[It] went pretty smoothly overall once we got on and figured out, you know, how they had the stands broken down,” Steven Benner said. “We could just go right through and found it really convenient.”

Steven and Leanne Benner stand with their order after riding their bicycles through the market.

Despite changing the operations of the market, Showalter said customers have shown support through the difficulties. 

“The people that are ordering and coming cannot stop staying ‘thank you’,” Showalter said. “It’s probably more of an outpouring of appreciation and gratitude from the community than I have experienced in my 14 years at the market.” 

Editor’s Note: This post was updated 6/7 to correct the spelling of Steven and Leanne Benner’s last name.

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