An array of vegetable booths, apple vendors and baked goods appeared across Bloomington last Saturday as multiple local farmers markets set up shop.
Local markets had to adapt to meet an increased need for healthy, locally grown food during the pandemic while also facing new restrictions on market operations. As vaccination rates rise, farmers markets are seeing increased attendance as COVID-19 restrictions lessen and produce reaches peak growing season.
Lee Jones, a longtime vendor at the Bloomington Community Farmers Market, sold out of okra and zucchini by 10 a.m. on Saturday. Jones said she has seen a recent boost in business in the past few weeks.
“It’s really picking up,” Jones said. “It has been throughout the summer and it keeps picking up more and more each weekend.”
Across the aisle from Jones, vendor Becky Vadas sold honey products from her Hoosier Honey booth. Vedas said she is glad to see increased attendees, including an influx of IU students, after sales dipped last year.
“Last year was very hard,” she said. “It was very challenging and really hurt business”
Bloomington Community Farmers Market Coordinator Clarence Boone said the market went through stages of online-only ordering, mask mandates, one-way entrances and exits, no live music and restrictions on prepared food.
Many Monroe County Health Department restrictions are lifted, but vendors remain distanced at six feet. Masks are highly encouraged but not required. The lessened restrictions helped revitalize vendors’ revenue and also improved the market’s social aspect.
“People are happier and more relaxed,” Vadas said. “Initially during COVID, you couldn’t socialize. You just had to buy your produce and keep going, but now people love to get a coffee and a pastry and then sit and socialize at the market.”
The People’s Market, a non-profit organization located at 909 East Second St., had to adapt its operations during the pandemic. The market launched in early 2020 after community members unhappy with the city’s handling of an alleged white supremacist vendor at the Bloomington Community Farmers Market in 2019. Branching off to form a new market, People’s Market vendor and volunteer Brandi Williams said they focus on food justice and anti-racism.
The group pivoted its original plans for operations to address inequitable food access when COVID-19 struck in March of 2020, Williams said.
“Providing the community with local nutrient-dense foods is really important in a pandemic, and that has an equitable stance to it because who is the pandemic predominantly affecting? Black and brown bodies,” Williams said. “Historically Black and brown bodies have not had access to fresh, local nutrient-dense food and, therefore, you have preexisting conditions.”
The People’s Market provides free sponsored food boxes each week upon request, has an open food pantry and partners with Black Lives Matter Bloomington to give food specifically to local Black families. Williams said the group gave away over $55,000 of food in 2020 through its sponsored box program.
The group is seeing a rising need for food boxes in recent weeks, Williams said.
“As unemployment and other programs have ended, we've seen an increase in our requested food,” Williams said. “It just corresponds with what's going on in our community as we continue through this pandemic.”
Woolery Farmers Market, located on West Sunstone Drive, is run by the Bloomington Winter Farmers Market and focused on healthy food access during the pandemic.
Rosie Sill, Bloomington Winter Farmer Market Board president, said Woolery Farmers Market is seeing more visitors as restrictions ease and customers become more comfortable returning to the market.
“Local food is more important now than ever,” Sill said. “I hope people are realizing the importance of healthy food, growing a connection with local food sources and keeping bodies healthy.”
A complete list of Bloomington area farmers markets with more information and shopping times is available here.