The Corvallis Farmers’ Market in Pandemic Times

Downtown Corvallis, until recently, was a wasteland amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The reopening process is just beginning, and downtown continues to be an abnormal space, as we keep our distance and are limited on what we can do.   

One annual delight has returned during the pandemic, permitting that citizens follow the necessary rules and regulations.   

The Corvallis Farmers’ Market has been a local favorite in the area for about four decades now, and even through a global pandemic, the Market refuses to quit. What’s usually a busy and noisy, yet incredibly therapeutic setting along the downtown Riverfront has morphed into something else entirely amidst COVID-19.  

There are a total of 12 regulations to keep the community safe while attending the market. Among them are wearing a mask, sending one person per household, a no pet policy, and strong encouragement to only shop for what you need before heading home.   

An Inside Look  

To experience firsthand how things have changed, I recently visited the Wednesday market around noon. Wednesdays are historically less crowded than Saturdays, and on this day especially the Market was fairly empty and strangely quiet. I instantly noticed a few people standing around talking, and others with their dogs, despite signs plastered everywhere warning customers to stay six feet apart, and one that clearly stated, “Thank you for leaving pets home.”  

There were about twelve or so booths lining 1st and Jackson, including businesses providing vegetables, canned goods, plants, and vendor food and drinks – which are take-out only. Every booth had a small sign reading, “Don’t touch! We will assist.” Some were accepting cards and cash – others only one of them.   

One of the best aspects of the Farmers’ Market is getting to talk with local vendors and learn more about their businesses and products. In this case, talking had to be kept to a minimal – as the rules state, “No time for chats! Short market trips equal successful social distancing!”  

Vendors Comment  

I later contacted a few of the vendors to get their own insight on the new Farmers Market experience during COVID-19.   

Amy Tucker from Iddell Dew Gardens in Falls City, which is known for incredible canned veggies, unique homemade jams, and other delights, commented, “It’s been a little difficult for us with the pandemic. We weren’t sure if the market was going to happen or if we were going to be able to sell plants and jam. So, we scaled back some of what we would have done for the year.”  

Tucker’s business has had to resort to new methods of selling their products – she even records herself making her creations on her personal Facebook page for interested consumers and friends to see.   

Ultimately, she says, “Change is hard for everyone and it can be very hard when changes need to be made from one thing to another sometimes overnight.”  

Camille Kaplan from Old Blue Raw Honey in Corvallis, which is known for their variety of Willamette Valley honeys, is not currently participating in the Farmers’ Market due to the pandemic, citing that honey is not as essential as other products being sold.   

Kaplan is continuing to sell honey online, and is offering free home delivery for locals. Though her business has opted out of the Farmers’ Market for the time being, she says, “Shopping at the farmers’ market seems like it’s probably as safe or more safe than shopping at a grocery store.”  

Arely Hanson of Pupuseria Del Valle in Corvallis, popular for its yummy pupusas, says that their business is struggling through the pandemic. “COVID has changed the Market a lot. We have seen a decrease in people attending the market – sales are 60-70 percent of last year at this time.”   

However, “We keep optimistic by still attending the Market, and we still provide jobs for our employees. We hope this uncertainty will pass soon.”  

Rebecca Landis, Corvallis-Albany Farmers’ Market Director, comments, “Farmers’ markets, like much of life now, are much more complicated for everyone. We’re asking a lot from our customers as well as our vendors — all for the cause of preserving our local food system … This is a teachable moment for our communities. If you want to support your local economy and protect your access to food, prioritize some of your money to spend with a local farmer.”  

To further assist in social distancing, the Farmers’ Market is providing an Excel spreadsheet to consumers with information about each vendor and their ability to execute online orders and delivery.  

Though the Market was nowhere near normal, it provided some familiarity in these uncertain times. More importantly, it reminded me of how it is so vital to support local businesses and small farms who are struggling to stay alive amid the pandemic.  

By Cara Nixon  

Photos: Courtesy of Cara Nixon & locallygrown.org