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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Cold weather is finally hitting Austin, which means it's time to enjoy staying at home and bundling up with some cozy meals.
If you haven't become the cook of your dreams since the pandemic hit, now is the perfect time to try out these recipes which will surely warm your belly.
Blackberry, bacon grilled cheese<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzQwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTU4Nzg0N30.y0sULvOAmBjq1ZbNdQ1fdOUgenNLSkbQitW2O-v-h2E/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C231%2C0%2C369&height=800" id="248c9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e9c480efdcda9ca576b8bf3de759c3c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>If you are looking for a completely different take on a traditional comfort meal, try making a blackberry, bacon grilled cheese. Blackberry, bacon and jalapeños on a grilled cheese? Sounds bizarre, but the mixture of savory, sweet and spicy will have you making these every week.</p><p>This easy recipe will only take 15 minutes and will allow you to cozy up on the couch ready to binge watch your favorite show. For any sandwich lover, this take on a grilled cheese will brighten up any gloomy, cold day.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the blackberry bacon grilled cheese<a href="https://www.lemontreedwelling.com/blackberry-bacon-grilled-cheese/" target="_blank"> here</a>.</p>
Jambalaya<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzM5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTc5OTEyMX0.760iOWCfyYyyXbA7NmyTDUa4FctY00REUXftmBLAtA8/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C117%2C0%2C439&height=800" id="2fca4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ecd9c9503736d209e8dd3e11b94bb4f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>For those of you looking for a hearty and flavorful wintertime dinner, try spicing up your kitchen skills by making a cajun jambalaya.</p><p>Jambalaya is a popular dish originated in New Orleans with West African, French and Spanish inspired flavors. With so many different varieties of flavors, you can modify your jambalaya to suit your desires, and add your own touch to the dish.</p><p>This recipe will take about 55 minutes, and will definitely make your neighbors envy the smell coming from next door.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the cajun jambalaya <a href="https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/jambalaya-recipe/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
Sheet pan chicken tikka with cauliflower and chickpeas<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzQyNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTgyOTE3MX0.OOSOmCgn2kXx-KsiZGjZ_cs5r7X1qZZdwNYAJ5lKR_0/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C310%2C0%2C311&height=800" id="287c6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5ada473e20e0a3d9e8e302019bbb3c52" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br>For anyone looking for an easy meal prep during the colder months, try making a sheet pan chicken tikka with cauliflower and chickpeas. This recipe is protein-packed and takes 55 minutes to make.</p><p>This recipe is perfect for anyone who wants to get home, cozy up in their favorite sweater and enjoy a warm, flavorful meal. Try pairing this chicken with rice or quinoa for some more substance.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the sheet pan chicken tikka with cauliflower and chickpeas <a href="https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/recipes/a25620918/chicken-tikka-sheet-pan-recipe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</p>
Spicy pork ramen noodle soup<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzQwMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzc0NjkyMH0.cIfhB4xkAQdcDYlugGFahbUFRJW-AEklw9i-t68QHxo/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C530%2C0%2C68&height=800" id="b5335" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e2f83e6aa50d5d8eafd7c4333b0a51ce" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br>If you have five hours to spare at home, put those ramen packets aside and attempt making your own spicy pork ramen. Although it is a bit more time consuming, this ramen will impress everyone in your home and you'll forget about buying ramen from the grocery store.</p><p>The broth is made by slow cooking the pork for four hours, which will enhance the taste and be so worth it. Customize the recipe by adding your favorite vegetables and spice it up a bit more with chili flakes.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the spicy pork ramen noodle soup <a href="https://www.kitchensanctuary.com/spicy-pork-ramen-noodle-soup/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</p>
Vegan mushroom wild rice soup<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzM5Ni9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjU5NzI4MH0.YAE_oJnS50B4xV024Eqhs-9AJESRflIpE5XFzCtPHgI/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C326%2C0%2C191&height=800" id="1f92b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="321a1ea7ed77821f7751ba016b02315b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>As cold weather approaches, what could be better than a mushroom wild rice soup for dinner? When thinking of winter, cream and mushroom definitely come to mind. If you are looking for the perfect cold weather dish, look no further.</p><p>This warm and comforting dish will take about an hour to make and is completely dairy and gluten free. With minimal ingredients and only one pot needed, the total time you'll spend making this soup is about how long it would take for you to order take out and pick it up. Homemade tastes better anyway.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the vegan mushroom wild rice soup <a href="https://shortgirltallorder.com/vegan-mushroom-wild-rice-soup" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
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