During COVID-19, the Land of Goshen Community Market in Edwardsville delayed opening by a month. Alternatively, the Alton Farmers' and Artisans' Market stayed open, only offering drive-thru services. But just last month, both markets returned to normal, in-person operations.
Dennis Jones of Blue Pond Farm has a stand at the Land of Goshen Community Market, and he said the pandemic hurt some farmers last year due to lower turnout at farmers markets, but this year seems to be off to a better start.
“Last year was pretty tough, especially markets like this, where people were afraid to get out of their houses … But so far this year, it’s gotten a lot better,” Dennis said.
Chris Jones, Dennis’s son, said the lack of crowds at farmers markets last year hurt Blue Pond Farm in particular because they were just starting out.
“Turnout was probably 30 percent of normal … we’re just starting our business out and bringing things to market, so it significantly impacted building our brand,” Chris said.
However, this was not the case for everyone. Tammy Carroll of Sunny Daze Farm said she had her best year ever last year, despite the pandemic. Carroll has a stand at the Alton Farmers' and Artisans' Market, and although it had less customers last year, Carroll said more customers came to her farm to buy produce than ever before.
“Personally, I think it was because there [were] just only so many things you could actually do during the pandemic. So, this was one of the few things that they could do,” Carroll said. “I think people just wanted to get out and spend some money and they were trying to get back to doing more natural things.”
SIUE Alum Clifford Clark said, although he only sells produce from his home garden and community gardens, he still had the best year ever during the pandemic.
“I had my best sales ever, probably because I have the community garden at The Milton Schoolhouse [in Alton], so I had more time to focus on that and grow more plants and produce,” Clark said.
Dennis said many customers this year have attributed their attendance to getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We had several people stop by here commenting, ‘Hey, I’m vaccinated, I’m OK, I haven’t been out of the house.’ One guy said, ‘I haven’t been out of the house for a year,’” Dennis said.
Vaccinations are required if customers or vendors are going without masks at both of the farmers markets. This was especially important for vendors like Tammy White, and her wife, Kim Dublo from Earthly Goods, because both White and Dublo contracted COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic, but they’ve both been vaccinated since then. White and Dublo sell plants and pickled peppers at the Alton Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market.
“I got COVID[-19], we both got COVID[-19] this last spring, which really put a damper on a lot of our gardening and our early planting stuff,” White said. “But we’ve both been fully vaccinated, and so it feels like freedom now.”
Chris said he’s heard from other customers that Goshen removing their mask mandate has encouraged them to shop.
“It’s nice to see that there’s no masks, there’s more people out. We’ve heard from a few people that being outside and seeing that there’s a mask mandate, they just keep walking. We’ve had a few customers come today that were like, ‘Yeah, we saw that there’s no masks,’” Chris said.
Keith Biver of Biver Farms said since sales were down last year, he found other ways to sell his products.
“I did [wholesale] plant stuff with Market Basket, and I think a lot of people are planting gardens, especially last year when they were stuck at home. So they’re wanting to make sure they’ve got something to eat and it gives them something to do, too,” Biver said.
Biver said he came to the Goshen Farmers Market about a month later than usual last year, and when he did, business was different.
“Everything was cordoned off, masks, and so I had to pretty much get everything; people would point to something and I’d put it in a bag. It was definitely more of a pain,” Biver said.
Biver said despite the difficulties of last year, sales seem to be picking up this year.
“[It’s] more like the old farmers market, because people are actually coming out,” Biver said.
Bruce Haas, owner of Daydream Farm, also didn’t get to sell for a month last year. This year, however, he said he is expecting the crowds to return.
“They’ve already started to [come back]. Each week’s a little better. This is the first week without having to wear masks, so you’re starting to see more people coming around,” Haas said.
Both markets take place from 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays until October. The Land of Goshen Community Market is on Main Street in Edwardsville, and the Alton Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market is located near the Liberty Bank Amphitheater in Alton.