For 25 years, Albuquerque’s Downtown Growers’ Market (DGM), centrally located in the popular Robinson Park, has featured one of the largest weekly gatherings of local food producers in the city. In 2020, DGM’s efforts to continue the market in a COVID-safe manner with public health orders restricting the market size caused the market to launch Farm to Car, an online, pre-order platform for market vendors. The efforts to keep the market operational and responsive to COVID-19 restrictions were supported by two $5,000 grants from the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association’s (NMFMA) COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund.
The unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis called for alternatives to in-person shopping and Farm to Car was one option for shoppers to continue to earmark their dollars to New Mexico farmers. The new platform allowed producers, many of whom lost wholesale revenue due to pandemic-related closures, to not only maintain their presence but to reach new customers, even with limited booth spaces available. Danielle Schlobohm, co-manager of the Downtown Growers’ Market, said the increase in demand for local foods last year was “notable.” This demand left growers scrambling to keep up and “planting every inch of ground they can find,” as Schlobohm said.
Through the Farm to Car website (previously accessed here (http://www.downtowngrowers.org/farm-to-car-winter.html), customers selected and purchased available items online from individual vendors, then picked up their orders at the market. Farm to Car ran from April to June in 2020 and the platform helped fill the hole of limited capacity capped at 25% – including shoppers, staff, volunteers, and vendors. Following the first three months, Schlobohm explained that DGM ran hybrid Farm to Car models and even tried a winter option this year from January to March.
With NMFMA grant funds filling the gap, DGM was able to overcome the loss of revenue from vendor fees. Normally there are 139 booths spaces available at the market, but to comply with COVID-safe practices, this decreased to only 72 booths last year. Additionally, Schlobohm was able to hire two additional part-time staffers and a security guard to help manage additional safety precautions, including setting up a rope around the perimeter of the park and creating a single, managed entry to ensure the market met capacity requirements.
Schlobohm expects many of the new strategies that the market and local farmers have innovated to adapt to COVID-related changes will continue well beyond the pandemic, resulting in a more nimble, responsive, and ultimately much more resilient local food system.
“This year has solidified my love for all the people who are involved and the hard work that all of these farms and small businesses are doing,” Schlobohm said. “The downtown community has especially lodged itself into my heart this year.”
To learn more about the Downtown Growers’ Market or to help support the market during the ongoing pandemic with a $25 “Friend of the Market” sponsorship, visit www.downtowngrowers.org.
This story is part of a series featuring the many farmers, ranchers, nonprofit organizations, and collaborative groups who received grants via the NMFMA’s COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund. The Fund was designed to reduce economic hardship caused by market disruptions linked to the ongoing public health crisis and accelerate a sustained and equitable recovery among farmers and low-income communities. In total, $484,653.89 was distributed in 2020 to 100+ producers and groups. The tireless work and generous spirit of these individuals help solidify New Mexico’s local food system and ensure food access by those in need during an historic, global health crisis. Visit the NMFMA website to learn more and to contribute to the Fund.
By NMFMA Staff | September 2021