BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — The Blacksburg Farmers Market has mostly kept moving throughout the pandemic, but the people who run the long-existing institution are working to ensure that the operation continues to experience as few disruptions as possible.
Fencing has been installed around Blacksburg’s Market Square Park, while several white circles have been spray -painted on the lawn area facing the pavilion-covered sections occupied by vendors.
Also, orange and diagonally arranged dots are currently being painted on the surrounding Draper Road and Roanoke Street sidewalks to keep patrons at a physical distance from each other when they are waiting in line to enter the market.
Ian Littlejohn, the market director, said the recent additions to the park are part of an effort to reduce the risk of spread at what is a destination in town. He said the additions supplement other measures such as face covering requirements.
The orange dots intend to keep patrons at a safe distance from one another whenever they are waiting to enter the market, and particularly when lines are long.
“We’ve taken a little bit of heat from folks who have driven by,” Littlejohn said. “We don’t want to give the impression that it’s unsafe in any manner. We really just want to show proactivity. … It’s about as safe as this gets in this environment.”
The fencing, Littlejohn said, helps control how many people walk into the market.
“Any time it’s not COVID, people are kind of coming from every direction,” he said, adding that a main entrance has been established from Draper Road. “The town has worked with us to install a perimeter around the market.”
Then, the white circles on the lawn are intended to help keep groups at a safe distance from one another whenever they decide to stay at the park for a while, Littlejohn said.
For Quinne Jimenez, a freshman math major at Virginia Tech, the measures seem effective so far.
“I feel safe. I feel that it’s a good experience, it’s a good atmosphere,” she said while seated at one of the lawn’s benches on Wednesday afternoon.
Tanner Joyce, another Tech student who was seated with Jimenez, said he came out to the park to see what the market had to offer. He then held up a small bag of peppers that he bought from one merchant.
Wednesday was Jimenez’s first time at the market, whereas Joyce had visited the grounds before.
Joyce said he enjoys the market’s casual atmosphere and first visited at the suggestion of some friends
“Really, I had some friends come up and they were like, ‘Hey, let’s go to the farmers market one day,’ ” he said. “I went with them, and I was honestly very surprised. It was really awesome.”
For at least a few merchants, the volumes have been steady, but the measures have helped curb some of the sudden rushes that have hit them in the past. That’s definitely been the case for Christiansburg-based Den Hill Permaculture, said vendor employee Christian Walkup.
Den Hill, which has been a market regular for just under a decade, specializes in produce that includes mushrooms and a variety of peppers, including shishitos. Den Hill is also in its first year of hemp harvesting, Walkup said.
When the Blacksburg market did temporarily halt earlier this year immediately following the start of the pandemic, Den Hill briefly sold its produce out of a food truck in the parking lot of Annie Kay’s in Blacksburg.
The vendor is still operating under some adjustments.
Den Hill is currently not selling its botanical products at the market because much of its sales is based on customers physically touching the items themselves, Walkup said. Those products, however, are still available via pre-ordering, he said.
Den Hill is also not doing Kombucha refills at the market for now, Walkup said.
Taylor Medley, an employee for the Check-based Weathertop Farm, said they only come to the Blacksburg market on Wednesday to try to cater to people avoiding the typically larger Saturday crowds.
“As you see, there’s less vendors. That’s been really nice for giving people an alternative where they don’t have to wait in line or kind of be queued in,” Medley said. “It’s nice to see people show up and be supportive of the local farmers during this time.”
Medley said it’s also good to see the market’s operators take the concerns of the pandemic seriously.
Weathertop specializes in regenerative meats, which come from the practice of grazing the farm animals in organized rotations. Among other benefits, the practice helps reduce carbon emissions into the air and steers the animals clear of environments deemed detrimental to them.
The Blacksburg market’s roster has a total of 40 vendors, Littlejohn said. Currently, the market typically sees about 32 vendors on Saturday and 12 on Wednesday, he said.