Farmers Markets Rally to Create Virtual Hubs for Hard-Hit Local Growers. Here’s a Roundup

Virtual farmers markets aim to prop up local food producers during the COVID shutdown. (Gemma Billings / Flickr)Virtual farmers markets aim to prop up local food producers during the COVID shutdown. (Gemma Billings / Flickr)

Farmers markets have been labeled an “essential” operation during the coronavirus outbreak, which means the markets will go on, in one form or another.

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Members of the Chicago Farmers Market Collective, a loosely organized group that’s seen its ranks double in recent weeks, have been working overtime to figure out how to support their hard-hit vendors in the here and now, while planning for a future that isn’t remotely clear.

A handful of markets have virtual alternatives up and running, ranging from Green City Market’s sophisticated app to McKinley Park’s Google spreadsheet.

“It’s market by market, with a focus on promoting vendors with pickup and delivery and CSAs (community supported agriculture programs),” said Stef Funk, program manager for Plant Chicago’s market. “Then we’ll refocus on vendors who don’t have an online presence.”

Some of the smallest growers are completely reliant on markets for sales, Funk said, and organizers are doing their best to prop up this segment of the local economy. The Plant Chicago team is even considering buying up produce themselves and distributing it from their offices much like a CSA would.

If public gatherings are still limited come summer, curbside distribution at market locations would be preferable to virtual sales because it allows markets to accept food stamps, something vendors can’t do online, she said.

But even “normal” outdoor markets are likely to look very different from what people have grown accustomed to, Funk said.

She suspects sampling and cooking demonstrations will be off the table, along with live music. “It will be more like a grocery store and less of a community hangout,” said Funk. “Ultimately the goal is to get food to people.” 

Here’s a roundup of virtual markets. We will update the list as more are added:

61st Street Market, Woodlawn: Has a web page devoted to a list of the market’s vendors and ways to directly access their goods via pick-up locations, home delivery or CSA.

Closed Loop Farms, which previously sold its microgreens exclusively to restaurants, has also created its own virtual farmers market to go. 

Green City Market, Lincoln Park and West Loop: Has launched Green City Market Delivered through the app WhatsGood or online at sourcewhatsgood.com. A one-stop ordering platform for the market’s vendors, with weekly delivery on Wednesdays for a flat shipping fee of $9.99. 

Logan Square Virtual Farmers Market: Has a web page to help consumers connect directly with those vendors who can provide pickup or delivery service. In addition, organizers have posted a spreadsheet of the market’s vendors, a list of available items, and where else they can be purchased (frequently at the Dill Pickle Co-op). 

McKinley Park Online Farmers Market: A simple Google sheet provides customers with the names of market vendors, links to their web pages or social media accounts, and whether they have pickup and/or delivery capability.

Plant Chicago Online Farmers Market, Back of the Yards: Has categorized vendors by specialty — produce, meat, baked goods, etc. — and created a handy color-coded guide to indicate the availability of pickup, delivery or a CSA.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]


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