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Online Ordering, Drive-Through Pickup -- New Normal For Farmers Market

In Part 2 of his report on the Harrisonburg Farmers’ Market's transition to a new normal, WMRA’s Calvin Pynn takes us to the Market on its first day back, and how its managers plan to continue operating for the foreseeable future.

Credit Calvin Pynn
Orders in bags await pickup at the new, re-imagined Harrisonburg Farmers Market.

Turner Pavilion had been just as quiet as the rest of downtown Harrisonburg as the Farmers Market took a two week hiatus to plan their comeback in the midst of the pandemic. But as soon as the Market officially reopened at 10 am last Saturday, cars started pouring in.

(Sound of cars idling, lining up in the pavilion lot)

While it was a different sight than one would expect when visiting the Farmers Market on an ordinary Saturday, the energy was still there. Foot traffic inside Turner Pavilion was replaced by car traffic through the surrounding lots. Booths displaying produce and other goods were replaced with full paper bags spanning the pavilion, and waiting to be delivered to customers who placed their orders in the days leading up.

(Sound of vendors and others gathering and running orders from the pavilion)

It was an all-hands-on-deck operation, according to Dylan Crigger, one of the grad students in JMU's Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication program who helped with the collective project to get vendors online in time for the new drive-through market.

Credit Calvin Pynn
JMU grad student Dylan Crigger runs orders out to customers in cars.

DYLAN CRIGGER: It was hectic, and we were kind of running around all over the place making sure people got their stuff, but just to see the response that people got, and it was just kind of cool to see that even though we’re shifting online and its completely new, this hasn’t inhibited the Farmers’ Market from selling their goods.

Crigger spent the morning running orders to customers as they pulled in, along with his classmates Laura Siegel and Lacie Knight. 

(Dylan loading groceries into a car)

CUSTOMER: You want it in the back?

CRIGGER: Yeah, just pop the trunk.

(Sound of trunk shutting)

CUSTOMER: Thank you!

At the same time, they were posting updates on all the Market’s social media pages. Others directed traffic around the pavilion and gathered orders. But Everyone shared two key responsibilities – wear gloves and a mask, and keep six feet apart from each other.

It was a change of pace for Judith Yankey, a regular vendor from Timberville-based North Mountain Produce. Although they sold lots of produce in this new iteration of the Market, Yankey still missed interacting with her customers.

Judith Yankey of North Mountain Produce gathers produce in bags for delivery.

JUDITH YANKEY: It’s more confusing for me, but some of it’s probably just starting. It’s nice to see your normal customers and be able to talk to them, and see how they’re doing and everything.

Despite the rush, the bags were delivered and the waves of cars were quickly cycled through the pavilion’s lot. By the time the Market closed at 1 pm, it ended up being a profitable day for both the Market and its vendors.

Their collaboration with X-Labs and the grad students didn’t end with their first day back, however. As physical distancing measures are still in place for the foreseeable future, the Farmers Market will continue to take online orders and operate as a drive through every Saturday, and X-Labs is taking that time to identity what’s working, and help change what isn’t.

Their manager, Aaron Kishbaugh, elaborated on that effort.

Credit Courtesy of JMU
Aaron Kishbaugh is JMU's X-Labs manager.

AARON KISHBAUGH: There are going to be tweaks, there are not going to be major reworking of anything. It’s just how do we optimize this, and really get the process down so its smooth and safe.

Those tweaks include techniques for controlling traffic flow, and more official time windows for customers to pick up their orders. Reception among customers has been positive, and while these methods are in place to keep the Market going through the pandemic, manager Josie Showalter says the online ordering and drive through options could still be beneficial once the Market is able to return to its usual format.

JOSIE SHOWALTER: Obviously my bottom line as the manager of the market is to have as many orders and customers as we possibly can, and I realize that for some people on some weeks, or maybe all the time, an online ordering platform would be their preference, to really just meet a higher variety of customer needs.

One of the collective goals between the Market and X-Labs was to create a model for other farmers markets who are facing similar challenges during the pandemic. On the heels of this project, students Knight and Siegel are continuing their work with Project Grows to get nearby farmers markets in Staunton, Waynesboro and North Augusta County online as well, which Siegel is eager to begin.

Credit Calvin Pynn
JMU student Laura Siegel loads an order into a customer's car.

LAURA SIEGEL: As a student, I never have time to volunteer when I have my assistantship, plus classes plus my job. The fact that I‘m able to combine my class project with community engagement is really cool. This is one of the most worthwhile projects I’ve ever been involved with as a student.

You can find out more about making online orders and other information about the Market’s recent changes at harrisonburgfarmersmarket.com.

Calvin Pynn is a radio reporter, writer, and photographer based in Harrisonburg, Virginia.