Farmers markets across Arkansas are continuing to adjust to the coronavirus pandemic, creating pop-up sales to stay connected to customers.
Updated health regulations released last week eased restrictions that have hindered the markets yet it's becoming increasingly likely we won't see a full return for many operators this summer.
Farmers have coalesced to create makeshift markets, with Little Rock and Fayetteville as prime examples.
A handful of vendors in Little Rock has been setting up shop in the White Water Tavern parking lot in the Capitol View neighborhood. They've been joined by food trucks and Loblolly's mobile ice cream parlor.
The biggest farmers market in town in the River Market pavilion has delayed its start, traditionally in May, because of the pandemic. Organizers are evaluating weekly but have not yet decided on an opening day.
Similarly, the traditional Saturday market on the Fayetteville square has moved a few miles up College Avenue to Evelyn Hills Shopping Center. No word yet on when vendors will return to the square.
Last week, however, the Arkansas Health Department delivered some relief by approving more flexibility on public gatherings. Market operators have been scrutinizing the updated regulations to plot a path forward though many still say the limitations present significant challenges.
Conspicuously absent from the markets have been the specialty items offered by artisans and crafts makers: bouquets, paintings, porch swings and patio chairs.
Good news from the health and safety regulators: flower vendors can return. And no longer are there restrictions on the types of products than can be sold.
Nevertheless, there remain obstacles that are being considered in evaluating before reopening the traditional markets. A maximum of 50 patrons is allowed to mill about at any one time, and lines for entrances, exits and making purchases must be marked or monitored for maintaining social-distancing standards.
Those are difficult hurdles for open-air forums that encourage crowds to stroll freely and congregate around vendor displays.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture released a survey reporting that 69% of the state's farmers markets plan to operate this season.
Another 29% of market managers are undecided, and 2% said they would not open for the 2020 season.
Even those that intend to reopen are considering changes: 18% plan to reduce hours or days of operation; 56% will limit the number of customers; and 33% expect to have fewer vendors.
The statewide survey was conducted in late March and early April. Results were released last week.
Arkansas has 112 farmers markets operating in 60 counties, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service.
Expect a different selling and shopping experience from the markets that do reopen. There will be more space between vendor tables, and more distance between vendors and customers.
The customer-vendor relationship will be altered, with buyers approaching tables individually rather than huddling around to test the goods. Protective equipment such as face masks and gloves will be required for vendors.
We're looking forward to a full comeback. The markets help create direct access to local farmers who grow and pick our food.
Some things just take more time.
Two entrepreneurial support organizations are sponsoring a virtual, statewide pitch competition June 5 to promote business development.
Startup Junkie of Fayetteville and the Conductor in Conway will award two prizes of $1,000 each to the top performers in a 60-second video pitch. Anyone in Arkansas can compete in the IdeaFame competition.
Virtual presentations open more opportunities, the sponsors say.
"By going virtual, we're no longer limited by geography," said Caleb Talley, Startup Junkie director of marketing and events. "What has always been a regional event is now open to the entire state, and we're excited for the opportunity to include and connect with entrepreneurs from every corner of our state."
June 1 is the deadline to submit a video, which should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contestants should include their name, business idea name and location.
AID FOR AG PRODUCERS
Federal economic aid is available to Arkansas agricultural producers in 40 counties who lost property because of recent natural disasters.
The Farm Service Agency is offering low-interest loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to producers who incurred losses due to excessive rain, flooding, hail, high winds, lightning, and tornadoes that occurred from Feb. 24-April 29.
Loans are geared to farmers who experienced severe physical losses only, such as devastation of a building or livestock. Loans can be used to repair or replace the lost property. Applications are due by Jan. 8 and should be submitted through a local USDA service center.
More information is available at farmers.gov/recover.
Though still high, the number of homeowners needing relief from monthly mortgage payments appears to be flattening nationwide.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reports the total number of loans now in forbearance increased from 7.91% of servicers' portfolio volume to 8.16% as of May 10.
The 25 basis point weekly increase was the smallest reported since the week of March 16.
The association estimates that 4.1 million homeowners are in forbearance plans. Mortgages backed by Ginnie Mae continue to have the largest overall share of loans in forbearance by investor type (11.26%).
Mike Fratantoni, senior vice president and chief economist for the national association, noted that "FHA and VA borrowers are more likely to be employed in the sectors hardest hit in this crisis, which is why more than 11% of Ginnie Mae loans are currently in forbearance."
SundayMonday Business on 05/24/2020