A Farmers Market in the Pandemic Era

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By Will Sutton

I don’t know about you, but I have found grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic to be pretty miserable. It’s not just the one-way aisles, purchasing limits, mask issues, and the omnipresent fear of catching (or unknowingly transmitting) the disease that makes me feel this way. Before the virus, grocery shopping in local stores was a somewhat social activity; every time I entered the store there was a good chance I’d see someone I know. We might stop for a quick chat, or just smile and exchange “good-to-see-yous”. Either way, grabbing groceries was a little way to plug into the community in which I live.

              Needless to say, things have changed. Masks make it harder to recognize one another. Stopping to chat is risky in itself, and also clogs up the one-way aisles, forcing other shoppers to pass at an unsafe distance. And despite myself, I can’t help but be a little paranoid whenever somebody passes too close or lingers a bit too long. Since the outbreak, what was once a refreshing social outing has become an emotionally draining mission.

              Which is why, when I heard the farmers market in my small town of Hingham, MA was reopening for walking traffic, I was skeptical that it was worth going to. I’ve been going to the Hingham Farmers Market most Saturdays since I was a kid-- did I actually want to taint years of good memories by attending in the pandemic era? But the temptation of farm-fresh vegetables proved to be more powerful than my reservations, and so on the cloudy morning of Saturday, August 15, I grabbed my grocery bags and visited the newly regulated Hingham Farmers Market.

             I had a mask over my nose and mouth, but still the market felt like a breath of fresh air. All of the characteristics that, in times when our world isn’t weathering a pandemic, make farmers markets such valuable community gatherings, felt novel and invigorating after five-odd months of lockdown. People (always masked) chatted with friends, or the vendors, or strangers they met in line. The large outdoor space made it possible to loiter and talk without worrying about other shoppers squeezing by at an uncomfortable distance. Lines moved slowly thanks to new rules stipulating shoppers can’t handle products themselves, but nobody seemed to mind taking extra time to converse with the vendors. It was an opportunity for more socializing, and besides, the slowness meant more time to savor the feeling of being in this community space once again.

            After months of grocery runs feeling like sensitive extraction operations, I relished in walking slowly from vendor to vendor, connecting with one another through brief conversations about cheese, produce, and which beets work best for pickling. With the new regulations in place, the Hingham Farmers Market certainly did not feel normal-- but it did feel comfortable. And in a time of tremendous uncertainty, it was nice, for one grey morning, to feel that sense of socially distanced community.

           Despite my fuzzy feelings, in the end I went home with a rather meager haul of produce. I bought carrots and beets (for pickling-- if I can figure it out) from Aeonian Farms in Westport, MA, and some beautiful and delicious cherry tomatoes from Stargazer Hollow Farm in Walpole, MA. Rest assured, when I return next weekend, it will be with a full list and a goal to visit every vendor, if for no other reason than to say hello, and to thank them for being a part of this small comfort.

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