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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Cincinnati Area Farmers Markets Redesign Opening Season Amid Pandemic

montgomery farmers market
Courtesy of Montgomery Farmers Market
A customer shops for produce during a previous year at the Montgomery Farmers Market.

Farmers markets in the Cincinnati area aren't letting the COVID-19 pandemic stop opening season.

The Montgomery Farmers Market, Hyde Park and Madeira are switching to a drive-thru pick-up model in hopes of keeping the local economy going.

According to a Michigan State University report, farmers markets produce spillover effects because money continues circulating in the region.

People wanting to buy from farmers markets will have to pre-order and pay online. Farmers and volunteers will load purchased items into patrons' trunks to ensure six-feet of physical distance is maintained. Vendors are only bringing enough merchandise to fill pre-orders. People walking up will be turned away empty-handed.

"We've had to give up the social part; the beautiful part of watching neighbors come together and see each other," says Stuart Zanger, president of the Montgomery Farmers Market Board. 

Cultivating relationships has been essential to the market's 11-year run. Zanger says conversations between patrons and vendors typically start with questions about their products and spirals into personal conversations about family and the community.  "It becomes something much more than walking down the aisle and shopping," Zanger says.

Although that won't be the case this opening weekend, Montgomery Farmers Market board hopes as the season progresses the market will be able to open while maintaining physical distance by separating tents like Covington's market did this past weekend.

Credit Ambriehl Crutchfield / WVXU
Covington Farmers Market opened the weekend of April 25.

Nancy Rice is one of the 30 vendors selling produce at the Montgomery market. Rice and her husband opened Rice Family Harvest eight years ago after leaving their careers in corporate sales. The farm is their only source of income and half of that money is brought in from selling produce at local farmers markets.

Asparagus, strawberries and peaches are some of the items she grows and sells herself. "You know your farmer; where its come from; where the food's been; how its been grown - there's a lot of comfort in that," she says.

That comfort is exactly what Rice and the Montgomery Farmers Market is hoping patrons will support.