While many in the agricultural industry have been devastated because of the closing of farmers markets during the pandemic, one local woman decided to come up with a solution.
For years Maureen Anderson, owner of Tasha’s Own Goat’s Milk Soap, typically sold most of her products at the Williamsburg Farmers Market and other similar markets each weekend.
Anderson was in her daughter Ainslie Martin’s kitchen when she received the news the Williamsburg Farmers Market would have to close because of the pandemic. She and her daughter, who owns the Virginia Bread Company and regularly sells at the market, looked around at a kitchen full of bread not knowing what to do.
But Anderson quickly leapt into action.
“[My daughter] was dismayed because the income from that product was going to be lost,” she said. “So I just said, ‘let’s tell people to come over to [my] farm in the morning and they can have a tiny farmer’s market.”
Anderson realized her property in Toano would be the perfect place for an impromptu mini farmers market in the midst of a pandemic because it provided enough space for vendors to spread out tables and for people to drive through in cars if they wanted to.
And only a day after the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market closed, Anderson, her daughter and their friend Mike Krueth were able to set up a few tables and create social distancing for people to come and shop.
Krueth, who owns Traditional Agriculture, jumped at the opportunity to participate because the Williamsburg Farmers Market was his main source of income. But while Krueth has been selling products there for years, he also experienced a level of anxiety at closing because he only recently bought his own farming property in New Kent in February.
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” Krueth said. “I was a little nervous because [the Williamsburg Farmers Market] is the main area that I sold my products…so we had to find a way to build something entirely from scratch.”
At the first Toano Open Air Market on March 14, the three vendors set up tables in a circle about 20-feet apart from each other. Anderson said there were a decent amount of people that came out, even considering a 10-person limit that was placed on the market in connection with Gov. Ralph Northam’s orders at the time.
Since then the market has grown to include 12 to 15 vendors each week that sell to customers through online pre-order arrangements, touchless interactions and curbside pick-up. Anderson and her family will even sell products for vendors, with all the profits given toward the vendor, in order to limit the amount of people on the property at one time.
While the market still remains relatively small, Anderson said it’s provided an outlet for those in the agricultural industry who were left with fields and storerooms full of products and no way to sell them.
“All of us live month-to-month really,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that a farmers market is fun but agricultural people depend on them.”
While the Williamsburg Farmers Market has reopened, Anderson and Kreuth said it is still difficult to sell products there because of the social distancing regulations and capacity limits. The smaller Toano Farmers Market has continued to be a source of relief for many locals in the agricultural industry because Anderson’s property allows for a more wide-spread setup.
Another benefit, Krueth said, was that the property was beautiful because of its old farm house, the wide lawn and the goats and chickens that dot the view.
Anderson said the market also provides comfort for vulnerable people, such as the elderly, because there is so much space to spread out and shop. The market has also become popular with families, who can bring their children to see Anderson’s goats from a distance.
“So we really amassed regulars that started coming and enjoying the market and what we had for sale,” Anderson said. “What it provided was a family safe shopping atmosphere and people could still be really far apart.”
Anderson and her industry friends want to continue growing the market and make it a place where families can feel comfortable and safe while also having a little bit of fun.
“Farmers are dependent not only on the weather for growing things, but on those four hours at the market,” she said. “Creative solutions are a no-brainer because we have to pay our bills. So my goal is just to provide a less populated option for people to come through and shop in safety.”
To learn more, visit the Toano Farmers Market online.
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