Long Island farmstands and weekly markets say they've had an unexpected bumper crop this season — a spike in shoppers seeking fresh fruit, vegetables and baked goods at their open-air markets.
At Meyer’s Farm Stand in Woodbury, the influx of customers started at the beginning of the pandemic in the spring, says manager Thomas Kahl, when more people were buying flowers from the greenhouse and just needing an excuse to safely leave their homes. He said the rush of customers didn’t stop there — the farm stand planted a sunflower field, drawing in more (smartphone-wielding) people. They've increased staff, added roasted corn and hot apple cider on weekends and plan to stay fully open until Christmas.
"The parking lot is just always packed, especially in the afternoon and people are lining up outside into the lot," says owner Pete Meyer. "I used to know almost all of my customers, but a lot of these people are new and I haven’t met them before."
One couple began visiting the farmstand just a few months ago, amid the pandemic, and say it’s now their favorite stop for recipe ingredients. "We come for the produce, especially the corn and tomatoes because we make a great toasted corn and mozzarella salad," said Bob Cassidy, 64, of Bellerose with his wife Kathy, 65.
In Brentwood, Thera Farms owner Theodore Bolkas said he is also seeing a spike in visitors, especially people coming for u-pick berries, plums and pumpkins. The farm put in an extra 2,000 everbearing strawberry plants this year and they were still picked clean each week. Bolkas likens the appeal to the farm's 18-acre spread, which makes social distancing easy.
"If the strawberries ran out for the week, people were even happy just picking radishes," Bolkas said. "They were happy to just be outdoors and appreciate having a safe place to roam around with their families."
Caroline Fanning, who owns the 5-acre Restoration Farm in Old Bethpage, said she saw a 25% increase in foot traffic at the produce stand. Shares in the farm's community supported agriculture program sold out completely for the first time in years — in March, when COVID-19 hit and people started working from home.
"People in their 20s and 30s who were accustomed to going to city markets, were looking for similar markets and stopped in," Fanning says.
Farmers markets also saw change this season.
"People are lining up before we even open the market at 7 a.m.," says Ethel Terry, who organizes weekly farmers markets in Rockville Centre and Islip, among other communities. Although there were challenges with supply shortages and pandemic-driven changes to prevent customers from touching produce, Terry said vendors have been selling out of wares ranging from artisan bread to empanadas and seafood.
Amy Peters, who moved her popular Saturday morning Sea Cliff farmers market to a pop-up location Glen Cove this year, said interest is has been so high that she's extending the market through the winter. Starting Nov. 7, vendors will move to a new indoor location at 100 Village Square in Glen Cove where shoppers can continue to get their weekly market fix through May.