When the last vendors take down their stalls on Nov. 21, it will mark the closing of the 2020 Boulder County Farmers Market in Longmont. Thanks to coronavirus, the market had one of the most unusual seasons in memory. Pandemic-related impacts tested the organization’s ability to support the loyal customers and the community farms that are key to its existence.
“We definitely had to come together to make this season happen, and it was a valiant effort,” said Elyse Wood, marketing manager for Boulder County Farmers Markets. “Around this time of year, we’re always pretty much ready to wrap things up and get some rest … but it feels good that we were able to serve the community, continue our food access programs.”
Like many things this year, the farmers market season almost ended before it had a chance to get off the ground.
“We were set to start as normal. Then, like everyone else in March, we started hearing that we might not be able to open. We shifted gears and decided that we would only open curbside for the entire season. By the end of April, we were notified that we were considered an essential service and could put on markets,” Wood said of not only the Longmont market, but those in Boulder and Denver, too.
As managers paid close attention to safety regulations, the markets’ customer admissions process evolved in phases. Once markets were allowed to open, customers were let in by reservation only. Eventually, operators felt comfortable taking walk-ins.
Numbers reflected the pandemic’s impact.
The market served up to 2,000 attendees in peak season this year, compared to 5,000 last year, Wood said. There were fewer vendors participating as well, though Wood said fewer sellers were easier to space out through the market, and those that were there benefitted from less competition.
Other trends Wood noticed were that farmers saw better sales than other booths.
“We didn’t have sampling, so the packaged vendors did have a tougher year,” she said.
Food vendors had to contend with health regulations that mandated reduced seating at the market. Also, attendees couldn’t purchase a drink or snack and walk around with it. They had to buy it, find a seat and then take off their mask to eat or drink.
Challenges, especially when organizers weren’t sure the event would happen, ultimately forced market managers to develop curbside pickup as a new service model piloted in Longmont. The model was used exclusively between April 4 and the beginning of May. When the market closes, it will stick around.
“Curbside pickup will continue through the end of the year,“ Wood said. ”We’re trying to keep it indefinitely. Folks can continue to order after the market closes, which is something that has never happened before. We’re glad it can continue to serve people during this difficult time.”
Interested customers can sign up for curbside pickup at the Boulder County Farmers Market website and create an account. The service also is available in Boulder and Denver. Longmont customers can order between 8 a.m. Tuesday and noon Thursday to pick up their orders at one of four locations. Most Longmont customers receive their food on Sundays at the market’s warehouse in Longmont, and have a wide variety of vendor choices.
Customers are grateful to have the option continue through the year.
Dale Gaar, who lives in South Boulder and previously shopped in the open-air Boulder Farmers Market, switched his buying to the Longmont Farmers Market because of the availability of curbside pickup.
“We do about half our grocery shopping from there,” he said. “It was one of two or three things we did in terms of shifting our buying habits because of the pandemic.”
Gaar said he appreciated the efficiency of how the pickup process was run, and saw it as a nice addition to market services.
As the market closes, gratitude is prevalent along with exhaustion and pride, Wood said.
“We’re grateful for the partners, vendors, and customers who stuck it out with us this year. It takes a village. We think that every year, but this year, even more so,” she said.