COVID-19 has a positive impact on Eastern Ingham Farmer’s Market

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The Eastern Ingham Farmer’s Market is held at McCormick Park every Sunday between May and October. Photo By: Rayna Skiver

Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at McCormick Park in Williamston, vendors like Zulema’s Authentic Mexican Food and FlowerEssence, set up their booths waiting for customers to arrive.

Due to Covid-19, the Eastern Ingham Farmer’s Market has had a season unlike any other, but not in the way you might expect.

Business … as usual?

“This year, on the first day of the market in mid-May, it rained all day — the entire time the market was open — and we had a phenomenal sale day,” said Marlene Epley, owner of FlowerEssence.

Epley, a florist, mainly sells specialty cut flowers at the market. In past seasons, she said that she would make a dozen bouquets and sell about 10 of them. 

This year, she said that she’s been making 20 to 25 bouquets.

 “I’m selling out every week,” said Epley. She said that two weeks ago, she sold more than she’s ever had at the market. 

“COVID has been a silver lining for farmer’s markets,” said Epley.

Another vendor experienced the same thing.

“About a month or so ago we had to make the decision to just go every other weekend instead of every weekend because we could not keep up with the food,” said Elizabeth Montemayor, operator of Zulema’s Authentic Mexican Food. 

“Week to week we just kept selling out,” said Montemayor.

Even though the market this season was mostly positive for Zulema’s, Montemayor said that the family owned and operated business had challenges at first. 

“We did have to slightly raise our prices because in the beginning it was challenging to purchase the produce and the meats we needed to cook the food,” said Montemayor.

Despite difficulties in May, Montemayor said the market sales increased. 

Jackie Ellis, market board member, said that it seems like there has been a shift in the customer base to support local businesses even more. 

“We saw maybe less individual people coming to the market, but I feel like they were spending more money,” said Ellis.

Changes made

In the McCormick Park parking lot, stickers were placed on the cement to remind customers to remain six feet apart. Photo By: Rayna Skiver

In compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the market had to make adjustments. 

“First and foremost, we had to change the market layout to allow more space between the vendors,” said Ellis. The market encouraged one way traffic, added signage about masks and social distancing and had greeters to answer questions said Ellis.

The market had new ordering options for customers as well.

“We did start doing preorders,” said Ellis. “That was pretty amazing for us because we had never done any online ordering with our market in the past.”

Epley said the market had to be completely restructured. 

“I had to reconfigure how my space was set up so that customers couldn’t walk in,” said Epley.

Zulema’s Authentic Mexican Food made adjustments as well.

“We rented out two parking spaces this year to give us more room,” said Montemayor. The vendor said that they also increased precautions while prepping food.

Canceled activities

Both Epley and Ellis said they miss the social aspects created by the list of activities previously scheduled such as live music and performances.

“We’ve had certain activities there to encourage more people to come and just kind of hang out and enjoy themselves, whereas this year we had to suspend a lot of those things,” said Ellis. Many of these activities were removed because the market didn’t want to encourage people to linger.

Epley also said that the lost social aspect had an impact on the market. 

“The market really is a social gathering place,” said Epley. “I’m hoping we can go back to some of the more fun social things that people really like the market for like music and children’s activities.”

A banner for the Eastern Ingham Farmer’s Market hangs between two power lines in the center of the town, encouraging people to go to the market. Photo By: Rayna Skiver

Hopes for next season

Due to COVID-19, the market had to adapt and learn quickly. “While adapting, we found some new creative ways to do things that will stay around,” said Ellis. She mentions that the option for preordering will most likely be utilized next season. 

Ellis said that the market has learned a lot this year. She said, “I hope that we will be able to get back to a little more normal.”