Farmers’ Market Popularity Rises Amid COVID Era of Supply Chain Problems

Sandy Torok, left, shops at the Shirley Farmer’s Market in South Reno with her daughter, Molly, and granddaughter, Adalynn, on June 26, 2021. Torok buys strawberries from Lisa Dermo, a seller at Rodriguez Farms, based in Watsonville, California. . Photo by Kaleb Roedel.


Lisa and Mike Dermo have sold 56 strawberry apartments. Over the next hour, they’ll sell half a dozen more, depleting their supply for the day.

It’s near noon on a scorching Saturday in late June and the Dermos, vendors of Rodriguez Farms, based in Watson, Calif., Wrap up another busy day selling purple berries at the Shirley Farmers Market in the parking lot of Tamarack Junction. Casino in South Reno.


“These weren’t even picked 24 hours ago,” says Mike Dermo, gesturing to a handful of 12-quart dishes filled with hundreds of plump red strawberries. “They pick them up in the afternoon and they go straight into the van and right over the hill (the next morning). I tell everyone that they are still growing.


The first two weeks of the season, the Dermos kicked off every Saturday morning at Shirley’s with around 30 courses of strawberries. They sold out from the first hour. Now, a month after the start of the season, they provide double the amount and barely meet the demand for berries.


“People want fresh stuff,” says Lisa Dermo. “Our products do not contain pesticides, they are completely organic. Our strawberries are different from what you try to get at the grocery store.


The demand for fresh, local produce is one of the reasons farmers’ markets have grown in popularity and size in recent years, said Shirley Sponsler, Market Manager at Shirley.

Mike and Lisa Dermo, pictured here on June 26, 2021, have been selling Rodriguez Farms berries at Shirley Farmers Markets in Reno for 18 years. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW

“They were popular early on because they were new,” said Sponsler, who has managed farmers’ markets in Reno for 29 years, including its flagship market at The Village Shops on California Avenue. “Now I think they’re popular because people are more aware of their food. And they can also talk to farmers. They may say, ‘Where does this grow? What do you do with it? ‘ “

It could be argued that people’s increased food awareness and desire for farm-to-table produce only increased during the coronavirus pandemic. This past summer and fall, many people were looking for a safer place to buy food than inside grocery stores, which were running out of supplies due to panic shopping.


Suddenly, farmers’ markets were not only attracting their regular clientele, but also a new generation of people looking for alternatives to crowded grocery stores in the COVID era.


“It was one of the only places people could go with their families and hang out,” said Sponsler, whose markets run from Saturday to October 2, with each location featuring a mix of up to 40 permanent vendors. and guests selling fresh local produce, meats, cheeses, eggs, honey and more.


“IT WAS A LINE OF LIFE”


Last summer, however, was unlike any other for Shirley’s Markets. The vendors had to have their temperature taken on their arrival. Masks were worn by sellers and buyers.


Everyone stood 6 feet apart. Buyers couldn’t handle or taste the produce before buying – a restriction according to Sponsler was particularly difficult for farmers, who often rely on taste testing to make sales.

Shirley Sponsler, Manager of Shirley Farmers’ Markets, with her granddaughter, Delaney, at her South Reno location on June 26, 2021. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW

Long acting as community gathering spaces filled with smiles and socializing, the motto of farmers’ markets last summer simply became “Buy… and goodbye,” Sponsler said with a laugh.

Yet consumers have come forward. And the vendors selling their products in the markets were grateful. After all, farmers’ markets have become an indispensable sales channel for farmers and food manufacturers who lost business overnight when restaurants, schools, and offices closed.


“It allowed some of the small businesses that would have nowhere to go to be somewhere,” said Sponsler, who charges vendors $ 40 to $ 55 per market, per week. “And then it also allowed the farmers to sell, and they would have been sitting on a lot of the produce. It was kind of like a lifeline to have this open last summer.


Mike and Lisa Dermo, who said they sell strawberries every week of the market season in 2020, agree.


“That’s it,” Lisa Dermo said of the importance of farmers’ markets. “That’s what keeps it going. That’s what keeps all of these farmers alive – it’s farmers’ markets.


LEAD TO START A MARKET


In fact, this is the main reason why farmer Cary Yamamoto decided to launch one of his own last summer, opening the Bonsai Blue Garden Market on Kietzke Lane in Reno.

The Shirley Farmers Market in South Reno is located inside the parking lot of the Tamarack Junction Casino on South Virginia Street. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW

“The pandemic was a big part of what it was about,” said Yamamoto, whose longtime family farm focused on seasonal Asian produce is based in southern Reno. “It was really trying to reach out to the community and really trying to connect producers to the community. Some of these producers were setting up sales in restaurants, so when the restaurants closed it really cut them off from their market. “

The Bonsai Blue Garden market attracted around 20 vendors last summer, Yamamoto said, noting that he entered this summer with around 25.


The market, which runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday until October 28, is home to a variety of small businesses, including farmers and ranchers, hemp growers, bakeries and a roaster, among others.


“Overall, the sellers we’ve worked with really appreciate having a point of sale during this foreclosure last year,” said Yamamoto, who charges $ 35 per week for a seller seat. “I think because of that, it gave them some durability to continue this year.

Brian Nelson, left, and Bridget Nelson, co-owners of online dog food retailer Pet Wants, stand with their daughter, Alexis, outside their stall at the Shirley Farmer’s Market in South Reno. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW

“I believe that farmers’ markets are quite essential,” he continued. “They provide the means for a local producer and a local artisan to be able to connect with the community better than anything they could really try to do.”

“THIS IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY”


Back at Shirley’s in South Reno, Brian and Bridget Nelson have been doing just that for the past month with their new Sparks-based internet business, Pet Wants, which offers home delivery of fresh, small-batch dog food.


Brian Nelson said they knew farmers’ markets would be essential in developing and educating new customers. That’s why, he said, they created Pet Wants in three different markets in the region every week.


“It’s a great opportunity to meet people and explain pet nutrition,” Nelson said. “In today’s society, where everything turns to the Internet and online shopping, it’s more difficult, especially if you don’t have a retail store, to get in touch with people, to talk and interact.


“This is one of the beauties of the farmer’s market.”

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