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Drive Thru Markets Protect Customers and Farm Income

Local Food Hub

The Local Food Hub in Charlottesville has spent years helping farmers to connect with big customers – like school systems, universities and restaurants.  As those places closed in response to the COVID crisis, Virginia growers lost business. 

Now, the Food Hub is stepping up with another way to support local farmers.

It’s planting season for Virginia farms, but many don’t know if they should invest in seeds and labor to get crops in the ground.

“If farms are not sure of what kind of demand there will be several months from now they may choose not to plant,” says Portia Boggs with the Local Food Hub. And some are already in trouble.

“Farmers, like many small businesses, operate on razor thin financial margin, and so this drop off in sales has the potential to be really devastating,” Boggs explains.  “We have had one partner farm come to us and tell us that their sales cut in half overnight when all of this started, and we have had several others tell us that they are really struggling to find ways to just stay afloat.”  

So – working with 75 growers and producers of products like pies and pastas, tortillas, bread and Bloody Mary Mix from local tomatoes – the Food Hub established a virtual farmers market.

“People can go on to our website, order everything that they want, pay for it in advance and then come to the market drive through, never get out of their car.  All staff and volunteers working the market are wearing gloves and face masks.”

The first few markets – on Wednesdays and Fridays – have been busy.

“The first market we had around 140 people come.  The second market had around 200. In every case the market has filled to capacity and still had people interested in participating," Boggs says.

And a new market is emerging –- charitable organizations that feed people during these difficult economic times. 

"Many of these efforts necessarily focus on shelf stable and highly processed foods, and our goal is to work with our partner farms to make sure that all of those emergency feeding efforts  also include things like apples and carrots and really nourishing, fresh items that are also easy and convenient for people to eat."

Other markets, including Charlottesville’s main weekend market, are also offering drive-thru service to ensure social distancing while keeping local farmers in business.  

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief