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Farmers markets find new ways to help local vendors during pandemic

Spring is the kick-off season for farmers markets across the country, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many markets' plans to open screeching to a halt.

Sherri Schreiner says 70 percent of her vendors rely on the farmers market for income. Schreiner manages the Roswell Farmers Market in the bustling town outside of Atlanta, Georgia. She says she's received so many inquiries from local residents and vendors asking when the market will be back open.

"I just had to break it to my vendors that we weren’t going to start,” she said. “I had to cancel our musical performances.”

The Roswell Farmers Market can't open without their local city's permission amid current shelter-in-place restrictions. In the meantime, they're offering their local vendors a new way to market their products: online order and a drive through the market.

"They're doing better by being there in person, while they pick up their order, and people can drive by and point and say, 'I want that,'" explained Schreiner.

Jennifer Tice owns Indigo Soaps, which uses natural and locally-sourced ingredients. She says the cash flow to her business has been affected by many farmer's markets being shut down.

"People are still afraid to come out and shop," Tice said.

Tice usually relies on the Roswell Farmers Market to help sell her products. Right now, she's selling them at another local farmer's market that is open, but she says the number of customers shopping is down by at least one-third.

"Definitely not having that day-to-day or weekly interaction with us has been a huge impact for us and both myself and a lot of the other vendors that are there. They live for market season," said Tice.

For the farmers markets across the country that are still open, organizers have put restrictions on vendors.

"All of the vendors are required to wear masks and they’ve got hand washing stations at both locations at the beginning and end of the market. It's only supposed to be one shopper per household," said Tice.

Zach White, who sells plants and produce at several farmers markets, hopes states recognize that farmers markets are essentially outdoor grocery stores that support local businesses.

"You know, they’re out of eggs, they’re out of meats. You go to farmers markets,” he said. “I have friends that are down the road here from our home, they sell eggs right from the farm. I mean, they have their licenses and they sell at the farmers markets and they’re stuck at home and they want to sell their products.”

White owns Buice Family Farms and says normally 50 percent of his sales come from farmers markets. He and his family have had to find other ways to reach consumers while the markets are closed.

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