KENT — The show must go on. And it most certainly will, when the grand opening of the Kent Farmers Market takes place, as scheduled, on the fourth Friday in May.
The market will officially kick off on May 22, and going forward will take place every Friday until the end of October. The market runs from 3 to 6:30 p.m. and is located on Route 7 in Kent.
The market’s manager, Lise Goedewaagen, explained that the Market will follow strict protocol in order to protect the health and safety of its vendors and visitors.
“We are fortunate that we are able to stay open,” Goedewaagen said. “It is going to be difficult to work with the protocol that they have, but it is set up for dealing with the virus and how we are going to keep our vendors and customers safe.”
The Market will open and operate under the guidelines issued by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. The document is titled “COVID-19 Guidance for Connecticut Farmers’ Markets” and provides a detailed list of protocols to be followed by farmers’ markets and stands.
According to the document, farmers’ markets are deemed an essential activity.
“Food is needed and consumers want to purchase it in a less crowded environment,” the document states. “However, selling at farmers’ markets during this time will mean changing, rethinking and being innovative to execute the market.”
Goedewaagen explained that she is working closely with state and local authorities, including the New Milford Department of Health and the Kent Chamber of Commerce. The list of protocols required to open the market is updated frequently, which has made the process challenging at times.
“I never thought I’d have to do anything like this, it’s a little tricky,” she said.
Goedewaagen explained that the market does not sell any refrigerated products, which perhaps made it slightly less challenging for the market to open as scheduled.
“I think it might be a different situation if we were selling dairy products,” she said.
The Kent Farmers Market will primarily offer a wide variety of locally grown vegetables. The market also provides vendors with an avenue to sell cut flowers, crafts, baked goods and other locally made food products such as honey and maple syrup.
In addition to her role at the Kent market, Goedewaagen also operates The Village Farm in Gaylordsville. The farm stand sells vegetables, herbs and eggs, and has also made an increased effort to source local products to keep up with demand. These offerings include a range of items including cheese, bread and microgreens.
“We’re a small farm, we’re lucky that we’ve been able to stay open,” Goedewaagen said. “We have definitely seen an increased demand for locally grown produce.”
According to Goedewaagen, the volume of sales experienced by The Village Farm thus far is unusual for this time of year.
“It’s probably tripled,” she said. “It’s really been quite amazing.”
Goedewaagen echoed the sentiments expressed by the Department of Agriculture’s statement, which explains that many consumers have a higher sense of security when they are aware of where their food is coming from.
“I think what draws people in is they feel safer and more comfortable,” she said. “Which is really good, because people are more aware of the sources of their food.”
Meanwhile, other local businesses that offer products grown in Litchfield County are experiencing similar challenges as a result of the pandemic. However, these difficulties have been coupled with a continued demand for their products.
Although the tasting room at Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen is closed to the public, the winery is making every effort to ensure their products are available to consumers.
According to the vineyard’s retail manager Chris Chichester, Sunset Meadow is offering local delivery and “car-side service.” Orders can be placed in advance via phone or the vineyard’s website.
Chichester explained that the vineyard has implemented several new policies in order to ensure the comfort level of its customers. This includes staff delivering the products to the customer’s vehicle, and use of a new credit card machine with a “contactless” feature.
The vineyard is also offering “virtual” happy hour tastings on Friday evenings, where customers can engage with each other and sample different varieties of wine from the comfort of their home. The forum also provides an arena for customers to ask questions and discuss the wines they are sampling.
“This will be our fifth or sixth one,” Chichester said. “We are getting a great reaction to it.”
Going forward, Chichester said that he plans to offer a “take home tasting kit,” which will allow customers to purchase pre-made, individually sized bottles from the vineyard to enjoy at home.
Although the current situation has created an immediate need to implement unique marketing strategies, there are some elements of the winery business that are difficult to replicate.
“The social interactions that we have with our customers is what really draws people to us,” Chichester said. “That’s really been kind of taken away.”
Chichester explained that face-to-face interaction with customers adds value and transparency to their experience. It also gives them a higher comfort level in knowing where the products are coming from.
Chichester is also hopeful that the Department of Agriculture will eventually allow the state’s farm wineries to sell their wine in grocery stores. He described it as another avenue that could allow local vineyards to survive during the pandemic crisis.
Sunset Meadow Vineyard is located at 599 Old Middle Street, Goshen. For more information, visit http://sunsetmeadowvineyards.com/ or call 860-201-4654.
Kent Farmer’s Market is located at 9 South Main Street (across the street from NAPA Auto), Kent. For more information visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/KentCTFarmersMarket/.