Farmers markets in Colorado have experienced a “fairly smooth opening” this season, said Rosalind May, executive director of the Colorado Farmers Market Association. Financially, though, like many businesses and organizations during the pandemic, it has been a “different year for farmers markets.”
“It's not an easy year,” she said. “Everyone is operating a little more leanly.”
This doesn’t indicate markets are void of customers, May said. The markets that have opened — a few are having difficulties opening, and two have been canceled — have seen steady business. Some vendors have even sold out with “really incredible sales,” May said, though overall, sales aren’t at the level from this time last year — the sales in Denver are at half of what they were in 2019.
“So far, I'd say more typically that sales are less than they would have been this time of year, but they are better than expected,” she said.
When it comes to the supply chain, if there’s anything that’s been challenging in the industry, it’s the distribution of the product. Also, modifications in operations have been rampant, May said.
“Market managers have been very proactive,” she said.
The association worked in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s recommendations to operate safely in communities this season. Markets have implemented ropes to guide traffic, while masks and gloves are frequently used.
In addition, markets have worked with local public health agencies to ensure a safe environment for reopening. With this, many markets have been able to open on schedule. And by being open, available, and transparent with customers, markets are able to remind visitors why the weekend visits remain so critical, and by following safety recommendations/protocols, it makes sure they stay open.
“I think farmers markets need to keep implementing the recommendations,” May said. “If everyone can implement these protocols and follow them, even if there is a (COVID) spike and we need to pull things back, our food is still essential.
“Those farmers will be there for you if there's disruption in the supply chain,” she added.
To help the markets, the association applied for grant funding from the Colorado Food and Farm Systems Respond and Rebuild fund, which has provided food producers across the state with funding to help adjust to the effects of COVID-19. The application was granted, and the association distributed funds to its member markets.
Also, there’s been encouragement for markets to prioritize agricultural vendors since markets can operate as essential businesses. This led multiple markets to start with their farm and food vendors, May said.
Market managers have largely been understanding of the new guidelines they must operate in — some have chosen not to participate due to certain concerns, and others have questions on aspects of operations.
However, the association has received strong feedback from its member markets through a market manager call every other Friday. Though managers express the situation is not entirely ideal, May said they understand “managing a market is already a difficult and rewarding job,” and managers hope to continue to drive repeat business.
“It's more than ever a critical time to support farmers markets,” May said.
Colleen Trout, executive director for the Montrose Farmers’ Market, said in an interview last week the Montrose market has experienced strong attendance and good business for vendors. The market is seeking assistance from the Respond and Rebuild Fund to help with operations of the market.
“Just Good Food” project
In late May, Colorado Farm and Food Alliance, based in Paonia, announced in a press release the “Just Good Food” project, designed to help feed people in need, improve food security, and boost the local farm economy. The Colorado COVID Relief Fund issued a $10,000 grant to the alliance, which helped move the project forward to support the local industry.
Pete Kolbenschlag, director of the Colorado Farm and Food Alliance, told the Montrose Daily Press the project, so far, has eight or nine local gardeners who have agreed to grow additional crops. This part of the project is called “Plant-a-Row” in which Delta County gardeners will plant an extra row of produce in their garden, which will then be distributed into the local food sharing system.
Kolbenschlag said the project has seen “lots of good work already.” The alliance is also coordinating volunteers, and this Friday, will launch a few programs within the project that will feed families with school kids who were part of a reduced lunch program.
“We want to support the farm economy around here, in addition to helping people with food insecurity,” Kolbenschlag said. “We’re trying to strengthen the local food market.”
In addition to supporting growers in the area, the project helps deliver fresh food to local food banks and distribution centers.
Last week, volunteers helped at the Salvation Army in Delta, and people have already donated seeds, funds to advance the project. The alliance is looking for volunteers who can offer consultations and take a look at volunteers’ gardens to offer guidance or tips on how to improve their garden.
“What we're doing with the project is supporting efforts around Delta County,” Kolbenschlag said, “and feeding people in need.”
Kolbenschlag added it's too early to tell if there has been an impact on the local farm economy, but he anticipates that impact will be seen soon.
The organization is hoping to attract more volunteers to help in any way they can for the project, Kolbenschlag said.
“We are excited that we’re going to be able to get food to people in need,” he said.
View more information on how to donate or get involved with the project here.
People who want to share a need or sign up for the “Plant-a-Row” project can visit sign up here.