For a few hours on April 9, fast-food drive-through windows weren’t the only option available for residents looking to pick up meals on the go in the town of Amherst.
The Second Stage Farmers Market kicked off its eighth season with drive-through service, giving customers the opportunity to pick up preordered bags of produce and other items. The grounds of Second Stage Amherst at 194 Second St. normally are bustling with vendors setting up stands to sell produce but because of social distancing from COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, the market converted to a drive-up service akin to a restaurant.
Mary Hurst, market manager, and a few vendors were on hand to serve the 15 customers who preordered the first week of the new season. She brings eggs, jams and pickles and said it’s good to see the faces drive up, even for a minute or two, as the market developed a faithful following of close and personal relationships over the years.
“I miss my customers,” Hurst said. “You develop a nice rapport with your customers.”
Hurst, who lives on a roughly 60-acre farm in the Mount Pleasant area of Amherst County, said she feels the market will weather the storm of the pandemic. The drive-through format will continue through at least June 10 to comply with Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order placing major restrictions on public gatherings and business transactions.
All customers have to preorder before due to the need to maintain the takeout and delivery classification under the government’s orders, she said.
“It’s a difficult situation but we are working through the regulation. We have to operate as takeout or delievery,” Hurst said. “It’s good we can still operate in some capacity.”
Hurst said she has heard from many residents about lack of food and shortage of specific items at local stores. She is passionate about buying from local farmers and believes now more than ever is important for residents to know directly where their food is coming from.
Local producers are being innovative in how they are providing food, she said, and is hopeful the market will resume to normal in coming months.
“As the season progresses we will have more and more vendors,” Hurst said.
One customer who drove up said it was nice to see the market up and running but the setting isn’t as “fun” as it normally is.
Second Stage Amherst, normally a busy venue with more than a handful of small businesses and regular activities, has closed through June 10 due to the stay-at-home order, according to its website.
Hurst said a few activities the Farmers Market was planning this year is postponed or canceled, including an empty bowl feature in which vendors use soup recipes of homemade varieties and customers keep the bowl, an initiative the Amherst school system would have joined in, and Karaoke on the grounds.
As the season progresses she said breads will be a featured item for sale, noting it has been difficult for many to get flour due to shortages in local stores in recent weeks.
Bonnie Davis, an Amherst County resident and vendor who sells homegrown honey, said it is good to see the market continuing through the pandemic.
“I did as well this day as I did any day last season,” Davis said.
Davis believes many people staying at home during the pandemic realize how important the time together is.
“It’s bound to be getting people thinking about life in a different manner,” Davis said, adding many want life to be back to normal sooner rather than later. “I don’t think people get excited when life gets turned topsy-turvy.”
Hurst said she heard many positive comments about keeping the market going during such a difficult time.
“It was definitely a need in the community.”
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.