When Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered all non-essential businesses to close this week, the Loudoun Farmers Market cooperative discovered they were included in that category.
Leesburg Market manager Jennifer Brady said the news was difficult to hear, saying farms are providing “high-quality, nutrient-dense food.”
“It should be considered an essential service along with grocery stores,” said Brady, whose Leesburg Market is part of the Loudoun Valley Homegrown Markets Cooperative.
She said the markets serve as an important resource for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) customers, who are able to use those funds at farmers markets.
“Customers have access to healthy food through the SNAP program, and though a grant from Virginia Fresh and Inova, we match their spending dollars, and the additional budget goes to more fruits and vegetables,” Brady said.
Brady said the weekly markets – located in Leesburg, Cascades, Loudoun Station and Bluemont – are quickly making adjustments to follow the new regulations.
This week, they will shift to a curbside take-out model from 9 a.m. to noon, allowing customers to fulfill orders quickly and efficiently and still have farm-fresh produce, meats, poultry and more.
Brady recommends customers first try to place orders directly with farms ahead of time before market day.
Other options include using a “take out” menu at the market, which will be brought to people while they wait in their cars. In the near future, Brady plans to launch a one-stop shop online for all vendors from one website.
“This is an exciting opportunity for customers to find ways to connect with their farmers at their home farm stands and farms. People are realizing the local food system has all the basic needs – it's a silver lining. It's a really exciting moment for people to realize the importance of our local agricultural community," Brady said.
Brady said the markets have weekly newsletters and posts on Facebook and Instagram so customers have up-to-date information.
While the farmers markets are adjusting to a new business model, some farm stores in western Loudoun are experiencing a major increase in business.
Lovettsville's Spring House Farm, owned by Andrew Crush, has a satellite farm store on Hamilton Station Road in Hamilton and a micro market at Crooked Run Brewery in Sterling.
Spring House store manager Mary Torres said business has been going well over the past two weeks. She believes the increase in business is due to customers wanting to eat fresh, local food and avoid large grocery stores filled with people.
Spring House sells a variety of beef, poultry, lamb, chickens, eggs and honey, among other items. The market operates as a self-serve and self-checkout system. To make checkout easier, customers can order online and pick up or schedule delivery at one of their locations.
“People are making an effort to shop local, and it is appreciated,” Torres said.
Paige Critchley, owner of Paige's Pit Stop Farm Store and Produce on Route 9 in Waterford, said she has had an “unbelievable amount of traffic,” and business is up 80 percent over last year. She said she has barely slept for two weeks because she is constantly restocking products.
“We sold two steers, two pigs and a lamb all in one week. Business has been great,” she said.
The store also sells eggs, milk, cheese, fruit, bread and other baked goods.
Critchley has seen new customers from all over Loudoun County, mostly people who want to avoid stores and large numbers of people, she said.
Following the state's regulations, she keeps the store to seven people or less at a time, and she asks everyone to practice social distancing. She said she constantly sanitizes everything.
Critchley wants to help other local vendors who are looking for ways to sell their products and has invited them to set up at the shop so they are also able to benefit from the foot traffic.
“We had Wicked K-9 treats here today, and we have a tea lady coming tomorrow. We want to do what we can to help other small businesses,” she said.