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Guest Commentary: Support Your Local Farmer's Market

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By Mary Surbaugh

A farmers’ market is a physical retail marketplace intended to sell foods directly by farmers to consumers.

Farmers’ markets may be indoors or outdoors and typically consisting of booths, tables or stands where farmers sell their homegrown produce, live animals and plants, and sometimes prepared foods and beverages.

This is a story of a successful combination of two markets, The Greenbrier Valley Farmers Market and The Lewisburg Farmers Market, that came together for the greater good of all mankind. What a story it is!

Talks began in the late fall of 2018 and beginning in April 2019, under the guidance of a local advisory board and the knowledge of Greenbrier County WVU extension agent Josh Peplowski.

The Courthouse Farmers Market began operation with Alex Hanna, manager, running the daily operations. The new parking annex, located behind the Greenbrier County Courthouse, served as a great location and further solidified the unity the farmers had for each other and the community.

March 2020 brought changes to all of our lives and its name was COVID-19. Most everyone secluded themselves to their property. Farmers do this anyway as it is still planting time. With the uncertainty of the future the farmers still had to plant. And plant, they did. COVID-19 proved not only to be dangerous, but equally powerful in exposing and practically breaking the food supply chain. Milk was being dumped because their largest customers, the schools, had to be closed. The big Midwest packing houses had to be shutdown as well, because the meat packers were coming down with the virus. The result brought forth meat shortages.

The 2020 Courthouse Farmers Market was to open at the courthouse in April. Due to restrictions for everyone’s health and safety, the market had to find a space that would accommodate the placement of the tents being 15 ft. apart. All the vendors had to be masked. The decision was made to relocate, temporally to the free parking lot of the State Fair of West Virginia. The decision was made to do a drive-thru market. One straight row of farmers, 15 ft. away from each other, and all farmers gloved and masked.

Josh asked me, “How many people do you think will come out? 10-20?”

We both looked toward 219 S and, low and behold, we saw a line of cars inching toward the market: It was worth all the planning it took. We experienced not only smiles but thanks and appreciation. Shopping took a little longer, yet the customers never once complained.

They came from as far as Charleston and Logan to the west and from Virginia to the east. All in search of the fresh and nutritious food grown by the farmers of the Greenbrier Valley. The next couple of weeks we tweaked and rearranged to provide better flow. Each week more and more people came. Our vendors certainly appreciated the faithful loyalty our customers showed to us. We will never forget it.

By the fourth week, the market had morphed into a traditional market layout, as the restrictions were lifted. Due to the pandemic, the canopies were still spaced 15 feet apart, our vendors were still masked and 98% of our customers were masked as well. Several deep relationships have developed between the vendors and the customers. I know I remember each and every face that visits our wonderful market.

Now we are approaching the end of the growing season. We are still at the State Fair of West Virginia’s fairgrounds, to which we are thankful. There are still shortages at the big box supermarkets and we are still seeing record crowds and new faces. We take this opportunity to thank each and every person who braved the drive-thru, the mini-blizzard on Mother’s Day and all the other changes we have made in the name of Covid.

Please join us this Saturday, October 31, from 8 a.m. to noon for our last outdoor market of the year. We will be asking our customers to fill out market surveys. These surveys will also serve in a drawing at end of market for a basket of seasonal goods from the farmers at the market.

We encourage our customers to continue their shopping at the Indoor Winter Market, which will be located in the Gus Douglas Building at the State Fair of WV. Many of the farm vendors you have grown to trust will be vending. The hours will remain the same, Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon. An online market presence is planned for future for those who like to shop from the comfort of their homes.

Look for bigger and better in 2021. Thanks to each and everyone who visited us at the Courthouse Farmer’s Market.

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