July 12, 2020
Submitted by Melissa Smith
My husband and I started regularly visiting the Hingham Farmers Market in 2010, soon after we discovered that I was pregnant with our son Everett. We realized that we needed to grow up, to adopt the routines of adulthood, and to start acting more like the parents we weren't at all sure we were prepared to be. It was our first, easiest parenting decision: Buy Local. And it stuck. Nearly every summer week over the past decade, you could find at least one Smith picking up package or two of mouth-watering, unmatchable custom burgers from River Rock, a dozen of the biggest, yolkiest eggs from Copicut, scallops from Jordan Brothers, and, because my little guy loves it like nothing else, a block of Atwell's Gold from Narragansett Creamery. We load up on fresh veggies too, and in the peak of the summer, berries and corn and radishes and salad greens. We like a loaf of fresh bread, a batch of cookies, and we've been known to mail jars of Sommer's Bounty jam to far flung friends and family. We aren't casual fans of the market. When the HFM is open, we do as much of our food shopping as we can there, because we know that buying local is a critical part of ensuring a sustainable future.
And we know many of our fellow residents feel the same way, which is why the farmers market has been so successful in recent years, bringing folks from all over the South Shore to our small town to shop and dine and even consider moving here. The Hingham Farmers Market is a true treasure, and our vendors are deeply committed members of our community. Because my husband, son, and I have visited so often over the past decade, we've gotten to know many of them well. We remember how nervous Charlie and Lindsay (River Rock) were over the birth of their first child. When Elizabeth (Copicut) first started thinking about adding pork to her offerings, we enthusiastically supported the idea. I'm pretty sure my son got his first lollipop from Tom (Jordan Brothers). On a Saturday in the summertime, the need to get a lollipop from Tom has delayed trips out of town.
The vendors at our weekly market, though most live in other communities where land is more plentiful, are as committed to and invested in our community as any neighbor or friend who lives among us full time. And this year, they have proved it beyond question. Since opening in May, our vendors have been working incredibly hard to keep us fed. They have done everything they can to make online ordering and payment easy. They are wearing masks, maintaining distance, putting up with tired, hot customers waiting in confusing and sometimes long lines. I've been there myself as a volunteer every week but one, and our vendors respond to every request, every complaint, with patience and cheer.
And for their kind efforts, they are rewarded with income losses week after week.
Sales are down to about 25% of the usual. Where Elizabeth might have sold 150 dozen eggs every week last year, she's now averaging 25 dozen. Packing the orders and bringing them to Hingham costs her money. Her egg cooler is so full she gave me and Charlie cartons last weekend just to make space.
This is unsustainable for our farmers.
And worse, because our town is only allowing pre-orders and drive through pick-ups, we are actively turning away people every single week who would otherwise make purchases to support these vendors who have done so much for us.
Every week except July 4th, there have been 100-150 cars with shoppers who pre-ordered from vendors, but every week, we turn away cars who haven't pre-ordered. This past Saturday, we turned away 45 cars. That number is necessarily low, because it fails to account for all the people who drove by, read the signs, and didn't ask if they could come in, all the people who didn't get orders in on time but would've otherwise stopped by to shop, and all those that the 45 have at home or elsewhere to provide for. These days, even though there are only three people in my household, my individual shopping trips are usually for two or three families with older members who can't go out. I am certain this is the case for many of us who feel a certain duty to risk shopping ourselves in order to keep others home. Those 45 cars might have represented hundreds of purchases, and we sent them home with their money, depriving kind, thoughtful, and dedicated members of our community the opportunity to break even.
I'm not a vendor, and I'm not at all personally cavalier about the threat this pandemic poses to all of us. My son is desperate to go back to school, sports, playdates and all the rest, and we are taking only babysteps in those directions. I have not decided, for instance, whether my son can return to fencing, which he loves, because the classes will be held indoors. School, I can't even wrap my head around. I am not at all in favor of opening many places where people gather indoors. I won't go. I won't subject my loved ones to that kind of risk.
But the farmers market is outside, and we can control the people moving through. Volunteers are ready to count shoppers and help them maintain social distance. Vendors have no expectation of offering samples, and I expect shoppers will patiently comply with requests that they not handle merchandise. Hingham is a community of grown ups. I have great faith in our ability to manage the market safely.
It's time now.
Our friends are suffering for our benefit. Let's open the Hingham Farmers Market to walk-through shopping and grant them some relief. Call or email the Selectmen and let them know you agree. Let's get this done before any of these beloved businesses fail.