Market Talk with Linda Johnson

Market Talk With Linda, Market Manager of Three Village Mobile Market 

Linda Johnson 

May 1, 2020

 

When the Three Village Farmers Market found out it may not be able to hold an open market this season, we pivoted quickly and began brainstorming about how to connect our vendors with our shoppers while still adhering to CDC guidelines for public health. Overnight, we launched one of the first online farmers markets on Long Island. 

This opportunity to buy and sell local food in a safe way has had its challenges and its successes. Every week since it opened, the TVM team has been working hard to meet the increasing demand from the community. This new format for farmers markets might turn out be more than just a temporary solution to an unexpected problem. 

“I think that the new Pick-Me-Up has big potential for the future,” TVM Market Manager Linda Johnson said when discussing the change in the demographics of their customers due to the online market. 

Johnson has worked at the Three Village Market for 5 years, starting out as a vendor, then transitioning to market management 3- years ago. She has worked with her volunteer team and organizations both locally and across the country to adapt the farmers market to continue serving customers and vendors during a time of crisis. Johnson is already looking to the future to see how the changes made could lead to increased opportunities even after the pandemic.  

 

What sort of response have you gotten to the online market? 

Madeline and David Johnson with Chocology

 loading orders into cars at the farmers market Pick-Me-Up. 

Both positive and negative. We’ve gotten a really great response from our local community—the people who know us, and know we are doing our best to bring them fresh products, are patient with us as we tweak our system. It’s a nearly overwhelming task. We’ve gotten a lot of push-back from people outside of our community, people who are frustrated with us because they don’t understand that we can’t serve everyone. We pulled our website together in 36- hours. We’re packing orders inside my chocolate shop where we don’t have the space (or manpower) to do any more that we already do. Bottom-line: people are excited about the online market. They want to support local farmers, bakers, and artisans. They’ve loved having local food to eat, and now it’s just a matter of us scaling it up so that we can fill the needs of a larger area. 

How many orders do you process per week? 

Right now, we’re processing just over 100, but each week the orders get bigger. I think people have figured out that if they have friends who want to order from the farmers market, they can all order together and then one person gets the delivery for multiple families, which is really smart. 

Are all the vendors that were originally at your market participating in this new format? 

No, they’re not. After talking with the Department of Agriculture about this format, we decided that we really just needed to do essential foods to start so we have produce, cheese, pasta, bread, fudge and a few other items. Because of Covid-19, we’ve added soaps, deciding they’re also essential; they’re food for your health. 

Right now, we’re at about 15 vendors, and we will start to add in more vendors soon. The process is still a work in progress, and we fine-tune it every week. This week we’re making a lot of improvements that I think are going to allow us to handle many more people. 

When did you first launch the Pick-Me-Up? 

Safety First at the TV Mobile Market drive-thru. 

On April 17. We first needed to get the online ordering, packaging, and delivery figured out. We worked really hard to streamline the process because we knew we needed to serve more people.  

We now feel comfortable to open our farmers market embracing social distancing rules and that sort of thing. We ran the plan by some of our regular customers and by our vendors and they all agreed it was a safe plan. 

Have you seen any similar things going on with other open markets or are you one of the first? 

We’re one of the first that I know of locally, but nationally there are people doing this. We’re members of the National Farmers Market Coalition, where we can see what other people are doing. There are a lot of different farmers market iterations out there right now. We looked at what was being done, we looked at all the software and our community. We decided that we needed to be an online market with sights on a drive-thru where people didn’t have to get out of their car if they didn’t want to, they could simply pop their trunk. We did this to keep things as safe as possible, and to make it simple for our customers to come and get an order. 

What have the producers thought about this process? 

Orders prepared for pickup at the Three Village Mobile Market. 

This has been a big learning curve for many of our vendors. That said, most love it. It’s another outlet for them to sell their food. My job as farmers market’s manager is to help farmers and producers sell direct to the public. Our vendors are excited as they learn how to conduct business on the web. A big learning curve for some has been inventory management and new process and procedures. Others are learning about social media. As a whole, they are really happy to be participating. 

Aside from items not in orders, what have been some of the other challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them? 

Well, we’ve never done an online market before. It’s all new. Staff, space and fulfilling orders, as well as educations for both vendors and shoppers have been our biggest challenges. It’s very labor intensive and fulfilling orders in a small space keeping within Covid-19 rules is challenging. The first week we realized we didn’t have enough space in my shop, so we pretty much emptied the shop and brought in six 6ft tables so we can move quickly, efficiently and safely. 

Much of my time has been invested in Customer Service. Last weekend we did delivery/Pick-Me-Up it a little differently so some people drove in, picked up and then drove out. The footprint changes every week as we find and ease the bottlenecks in the system. 

Are you going to go back to a physical location once the stay-home order is up or is this for the rest of the summer? 

Maria of Lucky Lous Gourmet Rice Pudding volunteers

at the TV Mobile Market drive-thru. 

Yes, with Covid-19 restrictions. I’ve spoken with both the vendors and some of our regular customers and yes, they want us to open. I think that the drive-thru has big potential for the future. We have people who are participating in the drive-thru that don’t care to come to the farmers market on Friday, but they love being able to get access to local food. It may be that when we do open up on May 15, we are a new combination of the farmers market as we all expect it to be as a community gathering place (obviously without music and special events for now) and the drive-thru for folks who choose not to come into the market. Of course, we won’t open the market at all if it doesn’t seem safe and will only open back up when we’re confident that it will be safe for our vendors, our customers and our staff.

Some producers have already implemented pre-ordering. Do you think this will become more common when people can visit the market again? Is this something your customers will still want? 

Danny with 4E Farm dropping off fresh produce

Danny with 4E Farm Dropping off Fresh Produce

I think it’s probably going to be a combination of both. It’s another sales opportunity for our vendors if they’re willing to pack orders every week, it’s another revenue stream. Chances are we’ll have vendors who participate in both, who set up in the field, but also bring preorders. 

Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want our readers to know? 

Just that we really appreciate the Community for their patience as we ramp up this new service and the Department of Agriculture for being willing to allow us to be nimble and figure out a way to be open because honestly, they could have just told us no. It’s been really great for people to be like, “Oh yeah, we’ll work with you to make sure that it’s safe and we’ll let you try it.” It is really important for our farmers and artisans to be able to sell their products because you can’t store it forever. The fresh stuff needs to be eaten.

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