DURHAM — While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on certain parts of the economy, local agriculture is experiencing a renaissance, and the Durham Farmers' Market is as busy as ever.
Since the market’s seasonal reopening in May, local vendors have been serving customers fresh produce, baked goods, and handmade crafts. Now, as October comes to an end, Market Master Jon Scagnelli reports this season was a success
“The number of people coming here has definitely increased,” he said. "I am very happy with the result, and I hope everyone is having a great time."
“I think it’s nice to just come out here, even if you don't want to buy anything,” said Middletown resident Lila Jones. “It’s a great place for family time: You’ve got food, you’ve got fresh air, music, lemonade. It’s perfect.”
Scagnelli believes many have turned to farmers' markets as a safer, outdoor option for shopping during the pandemic. The number of vendors at the Durham Farmers' Market increased as well.
This season some 30 sellers presented their products every Thursday afternoon, up from between 20 to 25 last year.
With the cancellation of some major festivals and fairs due to safety concerns, vendors saw outdoor markets as a way to generate revenue.
“Our sales have been phenomenal lately,” said Carmela Zavalick, owner of the Sweet Madeline’s doughnut truck. Last week, her little shop sold some 1,400 doughnuts in just a few hours. “I think doughnuts make everybody happy,” she said.
While business at Sandra Giardano’s brick and mortar shop, “Milk & Quackers,” has suffered during the pandemic, at the Durham Farmers' Market, customers snatched up her hand-made home decorations and farm-themed miniatures.
“Normally we operate all-year-round,” said Giardano. “When the virus broke out, we had to shut down our business for about five months. We downsized considerately: I am making far less products than before. There was no sense in making anything because there was nowhere to sell it until we came to the farmers' market.”
Unfortunately, several produce vendors said fewer people bought fruits and vegetables this year.
Dona Terrell, who sells homemade jams and fresh-cut flowers in her Meadow Walk shop believes many people have shifted towards cultivating their own food.
“I think a lot of people are doing more home gardening. I am happy that they are getting back into it,” said Terrell. “It hurt us a little, but at least they are getting outside. They are getting back to their roots, and that’s wonderful.”