For vendors of the Storrs Farmers Market, many have experienced benefits and setbacks as a result of the pandemic. However, the locally sourced food and community aspect of the market remain the same.
Stephanie Cabrera’s business is Pan Diosa. She sells fresh-baked goods and seems to sell out of most of her products within the first hour of market. Cabrera said that when she moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico after graduating college five years ago, she realized she didn’t want to pursue a career associated with her bachelor’s degree in journalism. Instead, she bought a lot of bread books and took up baking bread.
“That’s what I decided I want to do: Supply my community with a lot of bread and Puerto Rican baked goods and things that make me really happy,” said Cabrera.
Cabrera joined the market a year ago and said that it has been a really great experience. Despite the pandemic and its accompanying public safety restrictions, Cabrera said she has had an increase in business.
“COVID is good in the sense that we already have prepped items that are ready,” Cabrera said. “People are stocking up, people aren’t finding flour in the supermarkets and people also want to have something that’s homemade. At least for my kind of business, COVID has actually increased sales for me. Before I was doing more cakes, more pastries [and] selling less bread. Now with COVID, I’m selling a lot more bread and a lot of pastries.”
For Doug Crane and his hot sauce business, Dragon’s Blood Elixir, the pandemic has led to an increase in his online sales and custom orders for local orchards, businesses, farms and individuals. Crane has been at the Storrs Farmers Market for 11 years after retiring from 35 years in the food service industry.
“I always made hot sauces for my specials,” Crane said. “And I decided years ago that this is what I would do when I retired.”
Crane said that one of his biggest setbacks is that he can’t do sampling for his hot sauces this year. Instead, he does more verbal descriptions to persuade the customer as to what the hot sauce tastes like and what it goes well with. However, he still thinks that the taste of a hot sauce is a better selling point.
Cabrera has also had to overcome her own challenges. She said that her daughter used to attend every market with her, but can no longer do so because of the pandemic. Not only this, but her business’s growth has slowed down since she is not able to sell at other markets nearby. Cabrera explained that each market has made different accommodations to remain socially distant and when a larger market has changed its format to being a drive-thru market, she can’t make as many sales when people haven’t tried her products before. Apart from this, she’s also had trouble with acquiring ingredients.
“I am a small business,” Cabrera said. “My flour orders aren’t always a priority. [For] a lot of the ingredients I use, the prices have gone super high.”
Cabrera said that when she was struggling to find ingredients, other vendors at the market helped her find what she needed.
“The vendors, we look out for each other. They’ve been helpful. They actually helped me source out where I can get my flour and my wheat berries. It was thanks to this market and me saying that I was having issues with finding flour. So, I’ve had a lot of support in the market and from the vendors and from the market goers as well. It’s a really great tight-knit community of people.”
The market began to implement social distance measures at the end of March to follow safety protocols, according to Diane Dorfer, the market master and owner of Cobblestone Farm. Dorfer, a Mansfield native, said that while there have been socially distant restrictions put in place, individual vendors have made their own changes, such as putting an extra table in front of their stand to maximize the distance between the customer and the vendor.
“For us, we have it set up so we don’t handle customers’ money,” Dorfer said. “The people put their money in a jar and we give them change from money that we had put aside for a while. We don’t have people picking out their own stuff and handing it to us, we just get it for them and hand it to them so that there’s reduced exchange between people.”
Dorfer and her husband, Bryan Connolly, both noted that people seem to feel more comfortable coming to the farmers market than a grocery store.
“Part of what’s important to people about coming here is seeing their friends and neighbors,” Dorfer said. “It’s a really local farmers market.”
Connolly added that some of the increased number of customers may be attributed to being able to find certain foods you wouldn’t normally be able to get at a grocery store.
“I think a lot of people think that the food here is a lot higher quality,” Connolly said. “We have a lot of people that come from other countries in the world and they like to shop here because I think it reminds them more of food grown in the countries that they came from [because] I think it’s a lot fresher.”
Despite the ongoing pandemic, business has seemed to stay relatively the same. Dorfer, who has been a vendor at the market for the past five years, mentioned that as the season has progressed the number of customers the market receives is normal compared to a typical year.
Crane thought otherwise, saying that there have been less customers this year, but thinks that the community aspect of the market remains the same.
“This is like a family,” Crane said. “Most farmers markets, they’re all small business people presenting their own goods. If you ever want to find out about honey, about maple syrup, about how a farmer grows things [or] if you want to find out about hot sauce and why I do things the way they do, come to the farmers market and ask the vendor. They love to talk about their stuff and for the most part they’re going to give you the best information you’re going to get.”
The Storrs Farmers Market takes place on Saturdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in front of the Mansfield Town Hall. Visitors are encouraged to sign up for their weekly newsletter to stay up to date with which vendors and products will be available at the market that week.