Business

Cedar Rapids Farmers market vendors go curbside with drive-thru sales

Employee Josia Eden passes a customer's order to their car at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday, June
Employee Josia Eden passes a customer’s order to their car at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday, June 6, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Chris and Emily Thuerauf have sold elk meat at the Downtown Cedar Rapids Farmers Market every summer of its 15-year history. Normally crowded with hundreds of people milling about downtown Cedar Rapids, shoppers on Saturday picked up preordered food and jams by car.

The Thueraufs, who own Antler Ridge Elk Ranch in Ely, can normally empty a 15-cubic-foot freezer of elk meat at the Cedar Rapids market. Saturday, the first weekend of the market’s online pre-order operation, they made about 20 sales.

“Normally we’d be at 20 sales by five minutes into the market,” he said.

But, he’s hopeful business will pick up in the coming weekends after making an appearance at the market. He said the elk ranch’s online sales have ticked up, offsetting fewer farmers market sales. The couple plans to be a vendor for the rest of the eight-weekend season but likely won’t seek out new farmers markets elsewhere, Chris Thuerauf said.

“It’s always nice to have cash flowing. Meat sales turn into feed for my animals to raise more animals, so it’s important to keep something going,” he said. “Even if it is a fraction of normal, it’s still better than a big zero.”

Dorinda Potter, who along with her family runs Garnavillo-based Great River Maple, said sales of maple syrup were about a quarter of what they usually are at farmers markets and made up of mostly returning customers.

“For our product, we sample, and that’s not going to be allowed, and sampling makes all the difference,” Potter said. “... It’s just a different kind of experience, I think. If we get them to try it, we can get them to buy it.”

The Cedar Rapids Economic Alliance set the market’s eight weekend dates, with the next market date — June 20 — also being online pre-order only. On Saturday, vendors set up a few car-lengths away from each other as shoppers drove up to pick up their orders.

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The plans for how vendors will sell during the July, August and September markets will be evaluated as more public health guidance comes out.

Guidance issued by Gov. Kim Reynolds in April only allows food and farm products to be sold at farmers markets. Vendors have to keep 6 feet of distance, and online preordering is encouraged. In Cedar Rapids, a website was set up for local vendors that don’t sell food to sell products online.

Josie Rozum with Dan and Debbie’s Creamery, also of Ely, said that although sales weren’t as high as normal, the drive-thru pre-order pick up offered a way to promote local growers.

“We look forward to when the day we can get back to normal, but the drive-thru market was a way for farmers producers and consumers provided a sense of normalcy,” Rozum said, adding that she was grateful the economic alliance found a workaround rather than outright canceling the market for the summer.

Comments: (319) 398-8370; sarah.watson@thegazette.com

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