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.
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.
âThese weren’t even picked 24 hours ago,â says Mike Dermo, gesturing to a handful of 12-quart dishes filled with hundreds of plump red strawberries. âThey 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.
âPeople want fresh stuff,â says Lisa Dermo. âOur 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.
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.
âIt was one of the only places people could go with their families and hang out,â 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.
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.
âIt allowed some of the small businesses that would have nowhere to go to be somewhere,â said Sponsler, who charges vendors $ 40 to $ 55 per market, per week. âAnd 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.
âThat’s it,â Lisa Dermo said of the importance of farmers’ markets. âThat’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 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.
âOverall, the sellers we’ve worked with really appreciate having a point of sale during this foreclosure last year,â said Yamamoto, who charges $ 35 per week for a seller seat. âI think because of that, it gave them some durability to continue this year.
“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.
âIt’s a great opportunity to meet people and explain pet nutrition,â Nelson said. âIn 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.”