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State College Farmers Market Vendors Adjust To ‘New Normal’

An unexpectedly difficult summer and fall have forced State College farmers market vendors to adapt to a “new normal” this semester.

The market is about half-full due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean State College locals and Penn State students can’t enjoy the fresh produce, lively atmosphere, and crisp autumn air. Vendors and customers are following the borough’s social distancing and face mask guidelines to keep everyone safe while browsing the stands.

Barrie Moser, the owner of Moser’s Garden Produce, sells apples, peppers, and more at the market. Along with masking up and sanitizing between transactions, Moser explained he’s taken serious precautions so far.

“We’re still letting people pick out produce that they want, but we’re asking that they not handle all the produce,” Moser said.

Many of the other vendors have followed Moser’s lead in this precaution.

Sweet Root Orchards sells apples and a few baked goods at the Tuesday markets. Its owner’s daughter, Winifred, explained some of the frustrations that came with the initial opening of the market.

“A lot of people didn’t take it seriously at first,” Winifred said. “A lot of people of all ages were not wearing masks until people started getting fines. At first, it was kind of bothering me because I knew that when the students came back, the case numbers were going to rise.”

Winifred said she makes sure to wear her mask, washes her hands frequently, and offers sanitizer to customers to keep everyone safe.

Vendors still need to worry about the number of customers they are expecting to see and what produce is in high-demand.

“We’re not sure from week to week what’s going to sell and what isn’t,” Moser said “We planted a lot less stuff.”

Due to the pandemic, vendors like Moser didn’t know if they were going to have many sales or how sales would behave.

“The thing that bothers me the most is not having what our expectations were,” Moser said.

Winifred said Sweet Root Orchard’s sales were “OK” to start but have struggled thanks to competition.

“It’s awkward because on Fridays, there are two or three people that sell apples. Last year, people were coming down Tuesdays and buying more apples than on Fridays, but it’s definitely slower,” Winifred said.

Just three stands were at the market this past Tuesday, and the number of customers was significantly fewer.

“Tuesday’s market is much smaller,” Winifred said, “There’s just three of us as opposed to Fridays. But in other years we’ve had at least five vendors.”

Even though these unknowns can be difficult, this season also brought some unexpected successes for vendors such as Happy Vale Farms, which sells succulents, cacti, and even live shrimp.

“We lost a whole bunch of sales early in the spring when we really needed it. But otherwise, sales have been reasonably good this year,” Richard of Happy Vale Farms said. “I can’t tell you exactly what it’s attributed to. It might be because I have different things this year or more of a selection, but the students are really supportive of us.”

Pennsylvania’s summer drought, one of the worst Moser said he had ever seen, also contributed to this season’s problems. He also said a freeze in the spring damaged crops, too.

“Some of the crops, even our concord grapes, froze,” Moser said. “I thought that might happen to apples and raspberries, but it didn’t. Our raspberries are suffering because of the drought.  

“In that sense, we’re hurting all around. We’d just like to have more to offer,” Moser said.

While there may be fewer products and vendors, the State College Farmers Market is still managing through this season.

If you’re looking for a fun fall activity and a way to support local businesses, visit the market every Tuesday and Friday through November between 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

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About the Author

Mackenna Yount

Mackenna Yount is a freshman food science major from Manitou Springs, Colorado. She loves food, is addicted to coffee, and can give you random facts or bad jokes that nobody cares about. Ask her to bake gluten-free cupcakes and she'll throw in some brownies too. Mackenna can be contacted via Twitter @mackennayount.

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