RESTAURANTS

Iowa City Farmers Market going virtual

Bryan Bjorklund, program associate, loads boxes of produce into a refrigerated van at the Food Hub in Iowa City on Oct.
Bryan Bjorklund, program associate, loads boxes of produce into a refrigerated van at the Food Hub in Iowa City on Oct. 17, 2019. The hub acts as a broker between small-scale farms looking to fill gaps in the local market, such as local schools or nursing homes who want to serve fresh produce. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Though the start of the full Iowa City Farmers Market will be delayed until at least July 4 to fight the spread of the coronavirus, a new effort will provide a virtual shopping option for vendors and customers, with curbside pickup.

The city of Iowa City and Iowa City not-for-profit Field to Family are partnering for the drive-up market, scheduled to start May 9.

Customers will be able to place orders for wares from participating vendors through Field to Family’s website, fieldtofamily.org. Vendors will drop off their produce, boxes will be assembled and people then will be able to drive up and have the boxes put directly in their trunk.

Field to Family will have a refrigerated truck on site to hold frozen or other items such as meat that should be kept cold, which will be added to boxes when customers arrive. Customers will pay online, in advance, so the system will be contact- free.

Field to Family Director Michelle Kenyon said that the organization also would have guidelines for cyclists and pedestrians picking up boxes, and that it was working with Johnson County Public Health on guidelines for distribution.

Iowa City Parks and Recreation Administrative Secretary Tammy Neumann said it was important to the department to find a way to keep the market going.

The market is normally held Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings in the Chauncey Swan parking garage, May through October.

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“The Iowa City Farmers Market has been around since 1972, and this is the first time anything like this has happened. It’s a pretty integral part of this community,” she said.

“And we want to do what we can to keep vendors going. This is a livelihood for many of them.”

She said if the physical market does open on July 4, the city would assess the online shopping program to see if it would continue as an option for the rest of the season.

For now, participating vendors will pay their full stall fee, and that money will be used to fund the program.

Kenyon said the partnership works perfectly with Field to Family’s mission of connecting local farmers and producers with consumers.

The not-for-profit runs a food hub, which connects local farmers with clients like hotels, restaurants, schools and institutions such as nursing homes.

All those areas have been disrupted — many hotels are empty of guests, schools are serving fewer meals than normal even with free lunch pickups, restaurants are shuttered to dine-in customers and even nursing homes are ordering less.

“Orders are all down, it really is a blow to our efforts. A lot of nursing homes feed a lot more guests than we realized,” she said.

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So using the existing food hub software and infrastructure to help with the farmers market made perfect sense, Kenyon said. It also helps the small farmers keep one of their revenue streams going.

Neumann said market vendors were notified about the online market option Friday and as of Monday about two dozen had expressed interest.

Vendors have until April 26 to sign up. Customers will be able to begin creating accounts in early May.

Other farmers markets also delayed

Iowa City is not the only town assessing plans for the farmers market season. Several market managers said they’re waiting for additional guidance from officials from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as to whether farmers markets will be deemed “essential” services as grocery stores have been.

Here’s what others in the area are planning, at least for now:

Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market

The market put on by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance has been delayed until June 6. The current plan is for all eight markets of the season to still occur with the rescheduled market to take place on Saturday, Sept. 5, over Labor Day weekend.

The new dates currently are June 6, June 20, July 4, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Sept. 5 and Sept. 19. All markets run from 7:30 a.m. to noon. Market After Dark still is set for 6:30 to 11 p.m., Aug. 22.

Cedar Rapids Noelridge Park

The city-run market has been delayed to June 1. The market will be 4 to 6 p.m., Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays through Oct. 16.

Coralville

The Coralville market has been delayed to June 1. The market will be 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays through October 5, at the Coralville Community Aquatic Center parking lot, 1513 Seventh St., Coralville.

“Some of the changes we’re considering include limiting the number and type of vendors, instituting drive-through pickup, encouraging vendors to adopt more of a CSA (community-supported agriculture) model, requiring vendors to prepackage their produce, restricting/delineating customer queues to maintain proper social distancing, canceling and/or postponing music and special events,” Matt Hibbard, Coralville Recreation Center Supervisor, wrote in an email. “Again, we haven’t decided for sure which — if any — of those changes we’ll adopt, but those are just some of the possibilities we’re considering.”

Hiawatha

The market start date is delayed until June 7. The market will be 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sundays through October, at Guthridge Park.

Marion

The city’s market start date is delayed until June. Held in Taube Park, it will be 8 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays through the end of September.

“At this time we are looking at all options. One that we have thought about was some type of drive-through,” Marion Parks and Recreation Director Mike Carolan said via email. “Hopefully we will see some guidelines come forward from the state and local health departments before then.”

Uptown Marion

Tami Schlamp, director of Member Services for the Marion Chamber of Commerce, said plans have not been set for the Uptown Marion Market, which normally is held on the second Saturday of June, July and August, from 8 a.m. to noon, with a fall market on the last Saturday in September from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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“We are talking and thinking of alternatives if the market cannot happen like it has in the past. Safety of vendors, volunteers, sponsors and attendees will be a top priority in any plans going forward. Of course, we will follow any CDC guidelines for social distancing and group gatherings,” she said via email.

“We definitely want to help facilitate some form of the market so our attendees have access to the fresh produce and artisan items they’ve come to enjoy at the event . We have been working closely with neighboring markets as we navigate this unprecedented time, we also will be reaching out to our vendors to see what they would be interested in participating in.”

Mount Vernon

The market will start June 4 and be held Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m. at the First Street Community Center, 221 E. First St. Vendors who are willing to sell directly to consumers have their names and contact details listed on the market Facebook page, facebook.com/mtvernonfarmersmarket.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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