How the Farmers Market Has Adjusted to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ana Martinez and Kate Stuzin

After their temporary closure in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market, which reopened on May 10, has allowed locals to enjoy a taste of Floridian culture safely from the comfort of their vehicles.

The Pinecrest Farmers Market’s origins trace back to 2009, when visitors could walk through a multitude of side-by-side stands run by local businesses and restaurants. However, this long-standing tradition came to a halt in March. As cases began to rise for the first time in Miami-Dade County, the market decided to close on Mar. 13. 

“None of us had any idea, at the moment in time, how dire the situation was and how dire it would become,” Director of Pinecrest Gardens, Alana Perez said. “In April, we realized this was here to stay because that’s when the numbers were going up.”

According to Perez, the sudden closure of the market affected over 60 different businesses who profited from it, and left her and the managers of the Village of Pinecrest questioning its future. In the end, they decided to reopen the market and implemented a safety strategy for re-opening. As of now, the GreenMarketCo-Op cites that 36 vendors set up along the perimeter of the parking lot each Sunday, cutting the original vendor volume in half.

Prior to its opening, the market set up many precautions to ensure safety between both vendors and guests. For instance, all people must maintain a six-foot distance in between each other and must wear their mask properly at all times. The farmer’s market additionally no longer allows guests to arrive by foot because of its drive-thru style; however, the market allows bicycling. Vendors also have to run contact-free and electronic transactions, resulting in new resourceful methods, like attaching a card reader to a broomstick or selfie stick.  

After implementing the new rules, the market reopened on May 10 in a drive-thru style. Each Sunday, cars can travel through the Pinecrest Gardens parking lot to purchase various goods from local businesses. Vendors have had various responses to the new farmer’s market set up and have worked to modify their businesses to fit the new safety protocols.

“We have three roads for cars and, instead of getting backed up, a car can pull into a parking space and clear the path for the rest of the cars,” Perez said. “As long as we are in this situation, we need that extra space to accommodate pulling out of the way for cars behind you.”

Local business Incredible Kettle Corn has adapted by adding additional hand wash stations and hand sanitizer. They also received a Payment Protection Plan loan that the Small Business Association gave out, which has aided them in staying afloat during the pandemic.

“I like this drive thru model because it gives people the ability to come out and buy still and, at the same time, feel relatively safe,” owner of Incredible Kettle Corn, Leilani Fernandez said.

Fernandez has increased her sales outside of the market by conducting sales on Incredible Kettle Corn’s website.Customers can check out their latest products on their instagram (@incrediblekettlecorn), as well. Despite this, they have had an overall loss in profit in the months after the pandemic, and have yet to completely recover.

“So, because our sales dropped, the amount of markets happening dropped and a lot of people that were working with us were not able to stay. We downsized a lot,” Fernandez said.

On the contrary, business Imperial Roasts has had to hire even more people, and their owner, Sybil Thomas, feels that the Pinecrest Farmers Market’s drive thru model impedes their service.

“My customers here are eagerly awaiting because other markets are open where people can park and walk into the market, instead of driving through,” Thomas said. “We also had to have to have extra people on staff because now we need people to help navigate traffic, which was not an issue pre-COVID-19.”

The pandemic has also decreased Imperial Roast’s menu size since they have no electricity and cannot serve hot coffee. On top of that, customers can no longer sample different flavors of coffee, which has decreased the amount of new customers. 

“Sometimes, for my regulars, I let them pay in advance, or I write what they owe me on a piece of paper, and then I send them an invoice when I get home,” Thomas said. “I’ll do anything to help them avoid contact.”

Thomas also has a website in the works that will be posted on her Instagram (@imperial_roasts) in the upcoming weeks. In addition to selling at farmers markets, she delivers coffee on the weekdays and her new website will help her complete online orders faster.

As of now, the Farmer’s Market does not consider reopening the market in its original style anytime soon as cases continue to rise throughout the county. However, the current market continues to provide a taste of local culture for visitors and a way for businesses to continue running throughout the pandemic.

“We are extremely careful and considerate of our residents and those who visit us,” Perez said. “I am so proud to work for a village that stands with the help of those that live here.”