Field to Family’s online farmers market will start taking orders for this year’s first session at noon on Tuesday. Offerings from 34 local producers will be available through the Iowa City-based nonprofit’s site. While ordering will be the same as it was last year, picking up orders on Saturday will be different.
When Field to Family partnered with the Iowa City Park and Recreation Department to create an online version of the city’s traditional farmers market to help people access fresh, local food while maintaining pandemic precautions, orders were picked up at the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp. That’s not possible this year, because the Iowa City Farmers Market is returning with socially distanced and masked-up in-person shopping on Saturday, May 1.
Instead, pick-up for the online farmers market will be at the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building parking ramp, at the corner of Clinton and Benton streets. It’s the same location that saw record-setting early voting in the November election.
“The county is providing us with a lot of knowledge and skill they picked up during drive-through voting,” Michelle Kenyon, director of Field to Family, told Little Village. “So, we’re feeling really confident that we can manage the market at this parking ramp.”
The traffic pattern for pick-ups will follow the same route voting at the ramp did.
Field to Family held a late-season farmers market last year, with order pick-up at the nonprofit’s warehouse on South Capitol Street. That worked for the late-season market, which had fewer orders than the spring/summer market, but Kenyon said they are expecting many more orders than the late-season market generated.
“We averaged 450 orders a week [during the regular season market],” Kenyon said. “We knew we needed another location to handle that type of operation.”
The parking ramp will also provide plenty of storage space for orders waiting to be picked up, as well as shade that will help shelter both volunteers and fresh produce from the summer sun. Volunteers pack the orders after the farmers deliver their produces on Friday, and help distribute the orders on Saturday.
“This is a volunteer-heavy operation,” Kenyon said.
Field to Family is still looking for volunteers to assist with both packing orders and distributing them. Information on how to volunteer is available on its website.
The website also covers the programs designed to connect people in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area with fresh, locally grown food, and the farmers who are producing that food.
Kenyon emphasized Field to Family’s latest version of the online farmers market isn’t a competitor to the in-person markets that will be restarting this year.
“This is in no way replacing any in-person markets,” he said. “This a supplement. We believe in creating more ways to access local foods, and we’re thrilled the Iowa City Farmers Market will continue this year.”
“We’ve heard from the local farmers and the people who shopped the online market last year that this is something they wanted to see continue.”
Asked what advice she might have for someone trying the online farmers market for the first time, Kenyon recommended taking advantage of small quantities of products available though the website to try new items, or new varieties of old favorites. Like tomatoes? There are whole gamut of types to try. Enjoy carrots? Different farmers grow different types, allowing customers to discover new spins on an old standby.
“Even if you already know what you like, there are probably still several varieties you haven’t tried yet,” Kenyon said.