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Ben Hasan is the market manager for the Sustainable Food Center, a local nonprofit that operates two area farmers' markets—one in downtown Austin and the other in Sunset Valley.
Even though foot traffic at both markets is down by as much as 70% and pandemic precautions continue to be necessary, Hasan is optimistic.
"Come on down, shop the markets," he said. "We are open, we have been open. We used to say 'rain or shine' and now we've got to add 'global pandemic' but we are here for y'all."
'Better than zero'
Since the onset of COVID-19, the SFC markets have had to make large-scale changes to accommodate customers in a safe way.
Regulations include capping capacity at 150 for the downtown market and 90 for the Sunset Valley market and requiring customers to wash their hands before entering and wearing a face mask while at the market. Vendors are also no longer permitted to offer food samples, must keep hand sanitizer at their station and are encouraged to minimize interactions.
Kris Olsen, owner of Milagro Family Farm, has been doing the downtown SFC market for 12 years and always looks forward to seeing his customers.(Laura Figi)
This is rough for some vendors, like Milagro Farms owner Kris Olsen, who said he misses being able to interact with his regular customers. "Before [COVID-19], I was hugging and kissing my customers," he said. "That's not going on now."
Olsen's sales are down 40% to 50% and he has lost over half of his contracts due to restaurant closures, some of which are permanent. "Before [COVID-19], it was pretty much I could sell eggs, many eggs, to whoever I wanted," he said. "Now I've got to work to make sure I sell them all."
But Olsen has been working at the market for 12 years and said he doesn't plan to stop anytime soon. "It's better than zero," he said. "The demand for eggs is still there so I'm selling my eggs. I'm thankful for that."
'Shifting to change'
SFC is a nonprofit and relies on weekly booth fees from vendors to pay staff and cover market costs. With a decrease in the number of vendors and customers, there is less money to go around.
The organization has also had to expand the monthly budget by thousands of dollars to accommodate COVID-19 precautions.
"There's a huge amount of uncertainty across the board," Hasan said. "There's a lot of shifting we're going to have to do to keep our market model sustainable and, yeah, that's nervous-making, but we've still got customer numbers and vendor numbers that are at a new, stable normal for COVID. In that sense, it's about shifting to change."
Not all farmers and ranchers have seen their sales decrease, however, especially if they offer products that were hard to come by at the beginning of the pandemic.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw across the board our markets were stocked," Hasan said. "We had food at a time in which you could not get things like eggs, bread and produce. We had that here because of the resiliency of local producers."
The boom at the beginning of the pandemic was short-lived for most vendors.
As customers are no longer permitted to eat in the market, prepared food vendors have seen better days.
Tamale Addiction manager Julio Toledano sells tamales both hot and frozen at the market.(Laura Figi)
But Julio Toldano, manager of Tamale Addiction, said he has been able to sell more frozen tamales to make up for the loss of catering opportunities and decrease in sales.
"I think [the farmer's market] is a very secure way to invest your money because if they do not stop in this situation, they will never stop for anything," he said.
Although the market is still adjusting to the new normal, many vendors are just happy to be there.
Cake and Spoon owner Melissa Brinckmann has been working at the market for 11 years. For now, her sales are consistent.
"We've been very fortunate," Brinckmann said. "Our customers have been very supportive and people seem to keep coming back."
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Summertime sure does fly by, doesn't it? It's time to jam-pack as many summer activities as you can while there is still about a month left before school starts up again and the grind gets going. Luckily, Austin is full of places to visit that will fill your season full of memories.
To get you started, check out some of these seasonably-fit museums, galleries and snacks.
Beyond Van Gogh, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.
Like the name suggests, Beyond Van Gogh Austin takes visitors deeper into the Dutch painter's work by surrounding them in his post-impressionist world. Aptly taking place at the Starry Night Pavilion at the Circuit of the Americas, this immersive exhibit allows Vincent Van Gogh's masterpieces to be "freed from frames" as they are projected onto the walls and floors for guests to explore. Van Gogh's thoughts, dreams and words are set to a symphonic score to drive the narrative as you walk through the rooms, giving visitors insight into the tortured artist's swirly world. Adult tickets start at $46.99, children at $28.99 and it offers student and military discounts while the museum runs through Sept. 5.
Museum of Ice Cream, 11506 Century Oaks Terrace
The runaway hit from New York City has made its way to Austin, complete with a rainbow sprinkle pool, banana forest and bright-pink-everything exterior. The Museum of Ice Cream is a favorite of major celebrities—Beyoncé, Ryan Reynolds and the Kardashian Krew have all been spotted at the New York Location. The whimsical museum promises an undisclosed "Texas twist" at its new Austin location, which also has an on-brand café that serves Museum of Ice Cream original treats. You didn't think you'd leave without ice cream, did you? Tickets run $39 per person.
The Selfie Galleries, 3220 Amy Donovan Plaza
Looking for a place to get that perfect summer selfie? Look no further, because the newly-opened Selfie Galleries has 20 wildly decorated different rooms to roam through, capturing an unforgettable photo of yourself and your faves in each one. The backdrops were made so you can flex your creative muscle and make some documented memories at the same time. The gallery also hosts mixers for all age groups so you can meet local Austinites in a safe setting. Tickets start at $20 for an hour, $40 for two, depending on how many people you bring along.
Wonderspaces, 1205 Sheldon Cove
The self-proclaimed "new home for extraordinary art," Wonderspaces is an interactive art gallery like you've never experienced before. With rotating exhibits that you can touch, Instagram and ogle, the artwork is designed for everyone to create their own unique experience when visiting. Virtual reality, a house of mirrors, anonymous conversations and a dragon made of teabags are just a few of the wild installations that make this museum what it is—plus, you can enjoy some local brews at the Wonderspaces Bar. Adults can visit for $24, kids for $15 or you can get an annual pass for $99 and visit each new piece.
Milk Bar Bakery, delivery only
Maybe you want an experience without the outing. Thanks to ghost kitchens, the brainchild of Christina Tosi came all the way from The Big Apple to the Lone Star State. The well-celebrated Milk Bar Bakery is now available in Austin through third-party delivery only, meaning you can get the full line of milk bar cookies, bar pie, truffle crumb cakes and its famous layered birthday cakes through UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates only. If you haven't had these rich cookies yet, it's time to fire up that delivery app and get to ordering!
Soak up the rest of summer while you can!
- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
The Biden administration is asking cities and states to use pandemic relief funds to pay residents $100 to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reaffirmed prohibitions on pandemic protocols in a new executive order issued on Thursday.
The order emphasizes that "the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates," according to a press release. It outlaws government entities from requiring employees to be vaccinated or individuals to provide proof of vaccination and upholds previous orders restricting government entities' ability to impose pandemic protocols.
Local public health and elected officials have asked all Austinites to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, and unvaccinated individuals to avoid nonessential trips last week given the rising number of local confirmed cases and related hospitalizations in recent weeks. But it is not enforceable under Abbott's order.
The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions in the five-county Austin metro has more than quintupled since the beginning of July and is now 47.4. The threshold for Stage 5 is 50, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
Despite these trends, Abbott stands firm in his commitment to avoid new statewide mandates and to prohibit local government entities from issuing any of their own.
"Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19," he said in a statement. "They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses and engage in leisure activities."
Public health officials have attributed the current spike to the more contagious Delta variant and unmitigated spread among unvaccinated individuals. Abbott encouraged Texans to get vaccinated if they haven't already but affirmed that it would never be required by the state in his statement.
An increasing number of Austin-area employers—including Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health, Facebook and the Department of Veterans Affairs—have announced new vaccine requirements in recent days. Austin Mayor Steve Adler asked the city manager to enact a similar requirement on Wednesday, but the city is unable to do so due to an executive order issued by Abbott in April.
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