by Laura Mulrooney of Julien’s Bakery
Eight months in, the pandemic has been a true test of our mettle. Patience is thin, stress levels are high and water levels are low. When the suits talk about preparing for a rainy day, for extraordinary circumstances, NO ONE could have ever imagined the pandemic that we are experiencing now and really, how many folks do you know with a rainy day fund?
For Farmers Market vendors it’s been the ultimate challenge. Adapt, adapt, adapt, that was the key. If you weren’t flexible, this could break you. The rules of engagement were changing daily. At first the adrenaline high of a crisis made for a bit of fun. Porch deliveries, pick ups, thank you signs and thumbs up in the window, google forms, text orders day and night. Hero Farmers, Hero Bakers and oh those meat guys – Superheroes. The ‘fun’ soon dried up. This crisis wasn’t and isn’t going away anytime too soon. Some markets were already set up online, some were quick to do it. Others just couldn’t make it happen or maybe it wasn’t a practical option. Rural internet, older vendors who weren’t so tech savvy had a harder go. But one meat farmer I know who tearfully said she’d just could never get it, now easily uploads her online order every week.
Tears were a big part of my pandemic experience. The orders coming in on so many platforms were chaotic and exhausting. Mistakes happened and were deflating, though nobody ever got angry. This was true for just about every market vendor I knew. Trying to please everyone sapped the energy reserves quickly. While we were happy to make money, it was funny how less and less important it became. As the months wore on, people were threatening to change careers, spouses were bickering (more than normal) and farmers were ready to plow crops under. Who could blame them. With restaurants mostly closed up, where does one flog their shiso anyway? (Their what??) Things seemed to have settled down into an altered routine, but that could change again quickly. The stress is real and were it not for the support of other vendors who were experiencing similar anxieties, this could have gone badly. Listening and sharing became life saving tools in our pandemic toolbox – knowing that we weren’t alone made all the difference.
For 27 years I’ve been selling our French baking from behind a market table and more recently out of the back of my van and never have I been prouder to be part of this community. Days are still hard; our numbers are down but we will get through this one flaky croissant at time. Take it easy on yourselves – we are, after all, only human.