FRESH APPROACH: As farmers markets ramp up, COVID-weary shoppers find an alternative

Courtney and Kelly Smith of Greenfield peruse the rows of plants offered by Shelli Abbott, of Abbott's Garlic & Poultry in Albany, at the farmers market at the fairgrounds on Saturday, June 6. (Shelley Swift | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — It’s farmers market season once again, which means many folks are heading to their community markets to pick up fresh vegetables and other locally grown goods each week.

At markets from Fortville to Cumberland to Greenfield, some vendors are reporting increased sales this year, which they partly attribute to shoppers being less likely to shop at grocery stores due to COVID-19 concerns.

Tom Roethler dutifully donned a face mask when shopping at a Greenfield grocery store last Saturday, but when he stopped by the farmers market at the Hancock County Fairgrounds a few minutes later, his mask was hanging down around his neck.

Accompanied by his granddaughter, he felt more at ease shopping at the spacious, open-air market than he did the crowded grocery, he said.

“When I’m at the store I wear my mask, but it feels more comfortable here because it’s open-air and you’re not standing shoulder to shoulder,” he said.

It was a common sentiment among a number of shoppers and vendors at the market that day, although some still wore masks.

That same day at the Cumberland Farmers Market, Barb Smith wore a mask as she greeted customers. The pandemic concerns have caused an uptick in her business, said Smith, owner of Blue River Nature Foods in Greenfield.

“My sales have actually been better than they have in the past few years just because people are wanting local foods, and they can’t find this much stuff in the grocery stores,” she said.

Jim and Vicki Fair, owners of Fair Farms and Produce in Greenfield, said their business had also increased at the Greenfield market.

“We’ve sold a lot of freezer beef and freezer hogs,” Jim Fair said. “People are worried about not only running out of meat, but they’re worried about where it comes from. They’re wanting local products.”

Those seeking a truly contact-free shopping experience can shop local through the Hoosier Harvest Market, a farmer-owned online cooperative featuring locally grown and produced food like meats, eggs, cheeses, wheat products, produce, flowers and honey – all grown or made throughout the state.

The system is designed to benefit both food producers and customers by making access to local foods quick and easy through online shopping.

At, customers can select from a wide range of foods produced throughout the state, including bundles of food from various vendors.

There are nearly 20 different pickup locations throughout Hancock County and beyond, from Noblesville to Rushville.

Carly Edon is more of a hands-on shopper. She stops by the Greenfield farmers market for fresh vegetables just about every Saturday, but it’s not just to avoid the grocery stores. She’s been a loyal farmers market shopper for years.

“I love getting the fresh local veggies and plants to plant in our garden,” said Edon, who stopped by to purchase lettuce from the Fairs last weekend.

She also loves picking up locally made soaps for her daughter, who has sensitive skin.

“I’d rather come here than the grocery store right now, but we’ve always wanted to support local where and when we can,” Edon said.

In Fortville, the local farmers market is held from 4-7 p.m. Thursdays, May through September, outside the Fortville Church of the Nazarene at 701 S. Maple St.

This is the sixth year for the Fortville Farmers Market, said market manager Nancy Strickland.

About 20 vendors are signed up, although the number each week varies.

This year, the market is allowing just 20 people in at a time to promote social distancing.

In addition to vendors selling produce and meats, the market also has a flower vendor who comes the first Thursday of the month, and another who will sharpen any type of blade on the spot.

Strickland hopes to soon have a vendor selling food customers can eat while they shop.

Smith and her husband Earl run both the Farmers Market at the Fairgrounds and the Cumberland Farmers Market, held in the parking lot outside the Cumberland Town Hall.

Both take place from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday, starting the first week in May.

The difference in COVID restrictions between Marion and Hancock counties has been tough this year on the Cumberland market, which is in Marion County, Smith said.

“It’s been slow here just because of the Marion County restrictions. We can’t have any baked goods or craft-goods vendors. A lot of people are going right by us heading to the Greenfield market because they know there will be more vendors there,” said Smith, who was among the three vendors at the Cumberland market last week.

Due to Marion County’s vendor restrictions, Smith said the Cumberland market will probably not be at full capacity until July.

“My Amish (vendors) are restricted from selling baked goods right now, and they drive an hour to get here, so they won’t be coming until they can sell enough to make it worth the drive,” she said.

There’s always great items to be picked up at the market, she said, but an ever-increasing array of fresh produce will be available in the peak months of July through September, when the market is open additional hours from 8 to noon Wednesdays.

From November to April, there’s a winter market at the county fairgrounds where vendors sell meats, cheese, butter, baked goods and a few crafts.

Last weekend, more than a dozen vendors were at the Farmers Market at the Fairgrounds, where a steady stream of shoppers trickled in to peruse the assortment of plants, produce and other goods.

The Fairs have been selling at the market since 2001. The first-generation farmers cater to customers who are looking for locally grown produce and farm-raised meats. Some of their crops are organically grown.

On Saturday, their table at the market was covered with fresh lettuce, kale, spinach, green onions and asparagus.

Processing meat has become a challenge in the age of COVID-19, they said.

“A lot of the pork went really quick when the Smithfield processing plant (in South Dakota) closed. The trick has been finding an appointment at our local processors,” Vicki Fair said. “We’ve got the livestock, but we need the appointment to get it processed for the consumer. They can get it cut and packaged however they want, but finding an appointment is the problem.”

For those who have never visited the farmers market, Fair encourages first-timers to come check it out.

“As a whole, the farmers here try to bring a really good product to the table. You can really plan a whole meal around what you can get at the market,” she said.

Last month, she took home mushrooms, eggs and spring onions from other vendors and combined them with her own asparagus and made a quiche “that was out of this world. Nothing came from the store but a little bit of cheese,” she said.

For her part, Edon can’t imagine a stop by the farmers market not being part of her weekly Saturday routine.

“We love coming. We’ve always been pleased with everything we’ve gotten here,” she said, as she headed home with a bag of fresh greens.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Cumberland Farmers Market

Cumberland Town Hall, 11501 E. Washington St., Cumberland (east of Meijer)

8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, May through October

Information: 317-697-0508

Farmers Market at the Fairgrounds

Hancock County Fairgrounds, 620 Apple St., Greenfield

Summer market:

8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, May through October

Additional peak season hours:

8 a.m. to noon Wednesdays, July through September

Winter Market:

10 a.m. to 1 p.m., first and third Saturdays, November through April

Information: 317-697-0508

Fortville Farmers Market

Fortville Church of the Nazarene, 701 S. Maple St., Fortville

4-7 p.m. Thursdays, May through September

Information: 317-485-0410

Hoosier Harvest Market

Shop online, local pickup year-round