by Dan Bayer
Article update: As of July 31, 2021, the Corner Farmers Market has moved to 2105 Market Street.
At a time of quarantines and shelter-in-place orders, the weekly outdoor Corner Farmers Market in the Lindley Park neighborhood of Greensboro, NC has been a center of neighborly interaction, as well as a destination for people unable to visit the city’s other farmers markets.
The Corner Farmers Market was the recipient of a “Cultivate Resilient Communities” grant from the NCA Center for Communication, Community Collaboration, and Change at UNCG. The Center’s grants support organizations or projects that empower communities and create positive change. In the case of the market, the grant funded the expansion of the “Growing Green for Greens” program that doubles the value of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) credits, allowing those receiving SNAP to obtain healthy, locally-grown foods.
“On March 14 we put out a sign, Things are weird, let’s chat,” says market manager Kathy Newsom on the market’s initial reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The following weekend we opened the drive-thru service.”
“We knew we had to adapt in some way,” says Dr. Marianne LeGreco, a professor in the Communication Studies Department at UNCG who collaborates with Neighborhood Markets Inc., the parent organization of both the Corner Farmers Market and the People’s Market in the city’s Glenwood neighborhood. “We had to look at the safe practices we needed to put in place.”
The drive-thru service allows customers to place orders with market vendors online. The food is then gathered at a central location where customers can pick it up, avoiding the need to walk through the market. Other changes implemented have been reducing the number of vendors to allow for social distancing between stalls, limiting the number of entrances and exits to the market, and requiring vendors to wear masks.
Most importantly, however, the continuing operation of the market contributes to a sense of normalcy and security that has been shaken by the pandemic, particularly with the city’s larger Greensboro Farmers Curb Market’s required closure due to its indoor location. Since the Corner Farmers Market is outdoors, residents can still walk through and see familiar faces.
“We decided that we would try to keep the market open as long as possible,” says LeGreco. “There was still a way to keep it open while keeping things safe.”
“It’s great to have customers come and still be able to communicate their needs,” says Newsom. Having a space for social interaction with neighbors, however limited, is key to creating the kind of social bonds that allow a community to flourish even during setbacks such as a pandemic (Redshaw & Ingham, 2017).
The market has also seen more people taking advantage of its policy of doubling the value of SNAP credits, says Newsom, as the pandemic results in more people turning to public assistance following job losses.
“People who have never had to use SNAP before are happy that they can still shop at the market,” says Newsom. “There’s no stigma and they’re treated just like any other customer. Being food stamp-friendly makes people more comfortable.”
Redshaw, S. & Ingham, V. (2017). ‘Neighborhood is if they come out and talk to you’: Neighborly connections and bonding social capital. Journal of Sociology, Vol. 54(4), 557-573. DOI:10.1177/1440783317729762