Farmers markets became drive-thrus, and grocery stores offered special hours for the eldery and immunocompromised

From the Bay Area to the Ozarks, and across the Southern United States, scores of farmers markets nationwide adapted to the coronavirus outbreak with drive-thru formats.

The Red Stick Farmers Market was an early adapter, having already deployed social distancing and other public health measures at the mid-March markets. And by the end of the month, BREADA Executive Director Copper Alvarez announced the market’s Thursday and Saturday gatherings would take place exclusively in a drive-thru format, with patrons remaining in cars while proceeding through a single lane lined with regular vendors. The change kept patrons and farmers safer, while enabling the market to get back to its roots as a community food source.

“The farmers market has always been about giving the community a place to source food,” Alvarez says. “We might have grown to be more of a total experience with events, but at our core, connecting people to fresh local foods is what we’re about.”

March 19: Alexander’s Highland Market began implementing new safety measures, including senior shopping hours.

As the virus generally disrupted regular buying patterns, farmers faced the unique problem of a potential inventory glut. They planted spring crops months ago, never expecting that the economy would be so drastically interrupted. COVID-19 or not, the harvest was coming, and they needed to be able to sell it.

“Cows still have to get milked, and strawberries still have to be picked,” Alvarez says. “The farmers need opportunities to sell. They’re just as necessary to the food system during this crisis as any other food venue.”

By early April, a growing list of farmers were taking pre-orders to streamline drive-thru pickup. Meanwhile, grocery stores were figuring out their own ways to keep the in-person shopping experience safe—particularly for more seniors and individuals at greater risk for complications caused by COVID-19.

Markets like Calandro’s Supermarket and Alexander’s Highland Market made schedule changes, both reserving the first shopping hour of the day for high-risk shoppers.

Alexander’s offered a curbside pickup service where customers paid for orders online, and the bagged items were placed in their cars without any extra fees or upcharges. Shortened business hours at Calandro’s allowed for extra cleaning and restocking before the at-risk shopping hour the next morning.

“We view our neighborhood as our family, and family demands that we all behave as team players,” Alexander’s owner Lathan Alexander says. “Those designated hours are necessary for the safety and peace of mind of those who are most vulnerable.”

This article was originally published as part of the ‘Restaurants fight to survive’ cover story in the May 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.