“Crazy would be a good way to describe it,” says Brian Coppom, executive director of the Boulder County Farmers Market (BCFM), of the last several weeks.
The coronavirus-related shutdown coincided, within weeks, with the projected start of the BCFM season. As farmers pivoted to farm stands, CSAs, deliveries and other methods to sell their early-season foods, BCFM, too, pivoted to an expansive curbside pickup model. On weekends, as many as 800 people are now picking up orders through BCFM2Go, sourced from 42 local farmers, ranchers and other food purveyors.
Like the restaurant industry, the quick adaptation has helped BCFM and local food growers make ends meet during the pandemic, but it won’t be enough on its own to carry them through the season. It also shows their resiliency, Coppom says.
“As soon as they heard we were going to be delaying the markets, many of them were able to set up farm stands, they put stuff online and they had a tremendous response from the public,” Coppom says. “I think the concern for most of our area farmers is really in what happens when we get into summer crops. There’s not a farmer that can make up the volume they make at the market at a farm stand.”
So opening the farmers market (with restrictions — you’re encouraged to make a reservation and/or shop online for pickup, there will be no food samples, etc. (see sidebar for details) will help boost revenue for local food growers, but after running the numbers, Coppom expects peak daily visitation to the market to reach only 1,300 people — down from a peak of 8,000 during regular summers.
It won’t be the same BCFM at whichever location you visit. Gone are the live music, seating areas and artisan booths that made it something to do on Saturday mornings and weekday nights. Instead, it’s a place to get local groceries, which, in the sunshine and open air, might be more appealing than a closed-roof supermarket.
Despite the reduction in visitors, Coppom is targeting sales to be 50% of what they were last year. He estimates that of the 6-8,000 people who visited BCFM locations in the past, maybe 2,000 weren’t buying anything. The people who do visit, hopefully, will be those eager to spend a lot. That’s what the past dictates, anyway.
“Typically what we will find when circumstances are not comfortable, if it’s raining, super windy, anything like that, we find there’s a dramatic reduction in the number of shoppers at the market but there’s also a dramatic increase in the dollars spent per shopper,” Coppom says. “The core shoppers are still coming out, they’ll brave the weather, they’ll brave conditions, and they typically buy larger purchases than the average person. I think we’ll see those core shoppers returning to the market.”
The silver lining in all of this, Coppom says, is that more folks are waking up to the inadequacies of the industrial food system, and that they’re responding by buying locally. It’s a foundation we can build on — Coppom estimates that based on acreage alone, agriculture done on Boulder County could feed 25-30% of the population. Cut it in half if you account for water restrictions, but that’s still an attainable goal and one that could have a big impact if reached.
“We know for a fact that the globalized, industrialized food system has really delivered well on high volumes of cheap calories and even high volumes of nutritious food,” Coppom says. “What we also see is these big, centralized systems do not adapt easily. That has been one of the blessings on the local food system; it has been highly adaptable and highly innovative. There’s something there about resiliency that these smaller, localized systems are highly adaptable, they’re flexible, and they’re continuing to feed people where the larger systems are unable to do so.”
BCFM opening dates
The Boulder Saturday market on 13th Street in Boulder will open Saturday, May 23. The Boulder Wednesday evening market does not yet have an opening date.
The Saturday Longmont market at 9595 Nelson Road is planning to open May 30.
The Saturday Union Station market in Denver is planning to open June 13.
The Thursday Lafayette market will not open to the public this year. It will become a location for curbside pick-up for orders placed on BCFM’s virtual market, BCFM2Go (bcfm.localfoodmarketplace.com). Curbside pick-up launch date is TBD.
BCFM Dos and Don’ts
DO wear a mask (required)
DO use the restrooms before you leave home
DO use hand-washing and sanitizing station
DO limit your party to one
DO stand on 6-foot distancing marks
DO follow our one-way flow of traffic
DO make a shopping list and plan your route
DO keep your market visits short
DO use credit cards
DO wash and disinfect all your purchases when you return home
DON’T come to market if you’re sick
DON’T come to market without a reservation
DON’T use cash if you can avoid it (If you must, bring small bills)
DON’T bring pets to market
DON’T touch any produce or goods
DON’T consume any food on site