WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Farmers Market made its long-awaited return to town last spring. After the market’s successful relaunch, many residents were looking forward to once again being able to browse the wares of the vendors who set up shop in the parking lot of 80 Main St. on Saturdays. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home orders had a different idea, and, at least for the time being, the farmers market looks a little different.
“The governor actually exempted us from the closures, so we’re considered essential,” Rob Reese, who runs the market along with his wife, Stacey Reese, said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on May 22. “It’s up to each farmers market whether or not they want to open. But given the large number of cases in West Orange, we decided it would not be responsible to open. It came down to, either we’re going to delay opening or we’re going to open with technology.”
The Reeses settled on the second option, redesigning www.wofarmersmarket.com to allow for online ordering. Shoppers can choose what they want from the farmers market vendors and pick it up on the following Saturday. A line of cars winds through the parking lot, and the vendors place the orders in the purchaser’s car. As of May 23, the second weekend of the new system, shoppers can look at their order on their phone and see which items have been placed into the car. Vendors can flag items they run out of and then direct those cars to another area for assistance.
“The parking lot gives us the ability to create a very long drive through,” Rob Reese said. “There were definitely some hiccups, but we were able to work with those vendors.”
The tentative date to decide how long the contactless farmers market will last is June 6, but Reese said that, like every other deadline that has been set, it could change. Eventually, residents will be able to visit the market like they used to prior to the coronavirus. But even when that happens, the technology is here to stay.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Reese said. “Now that we have the technology to do it, why get rid of it? Let’s say next year we go back to normal. It won’t be a drive through, but to use this for six weeks and then shut it down would be a shame. It will just be another service.”
Orders that are received by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday will be available for pickup the following Saturday. If the order is placed after that, it will be available for pickup the Saturday a week later. But Reese recommends ordering earlier in the week.
“We’re in a pandemic, and things are in higher demand,” he said. “Things sell out quickly. If you know you want something, order at the beginning of the week.”
Not only host to local food vendors, the farmers market also had an event calendar set for the 2020 season. Those events are on hold for now, in hopes that maybe later in the summer some of them can happen. It’s too early to tell. But the market organizers still need help.
“We need volunteers if anyone is willing to help with traffic management,” Reese said. “We have a little call center there, which is a much safer way to deal with any problems. And we’re always looking for vendors.”
Information about volunteering and becoming a vendor can be found at www.wofarmersmarket.com.
Many of the vendors at the farmers market are local, another reason that the team decided to open for business; according to Reese, supporting the local economy is important, too.
“We made the decision that we can be just as effective with technology as we can be in the browse-and-shop model,” Reese said.
Photos Courtesy of Rob Reese