One day, Bonnie Emerson was getting ready to stage another weekend Rancho Viejo Farmers Market – and then the world changed.
The threat of the coronavirus led Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to issue an executive order on March 19 that limited public gatherings and eventually led to the closing of many businesses. The Rancho Viejo Farmers Market of March 21-22 saw an abrupt cancellation with no roadmap of what to do next.
“Now what?” Emerson recalls being asked.
She asked herself the same question. Her market’s 300-plus vendors had product to move. It was time to move to Plan B.
“I told people, ‘we’re going to have to reinvent the wheel here,'” Emerson said. “We changed our whole way of doing business in a matter of hours.”
The Rancho Viejo Farmers Market and its companion market in Primera were going from being stationary to mobile, with plenty of flexibility thrown in. The eggs, breads, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and fruits customers were standing in long lines to buy at grocery stores would be available for pickup and delivery by Emerson’s markets and her vendors.
Emerson quickly made new rules for packaging and how to handle products in the new normal of dealing with a highly transmittable virus. She instructed her vendors not to accept loose change or make any in accepting only bills. Sanitizing devices would be of use after every credit or debit card transaction.
From there, it was a matter of posting photos of products and goods with brief descriptions on social media. Orders would come from online in addition to phone orders.
“The first few days were absolute craziness,” she said. “We got so many calls. I couldn’t keep up.”
Establishing A Hybrid Business
Pickup and distribution locations were set up in Rancho Viejo and Brownsville. A makeshift delivery infrastructure system would make deliveries throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
“People really came together,” Emerson said. “It’s just a whole new world now.”
She took a brief break recently in marveling how everything changed so quickly in the era of the coronavirus. Her business in a handful of weeks went from a traditional farmers market of browsing shoppers to one where customers pick up 60 percent of her vendors’ products. Deliveries account for the other 40 percent. Emerson would like to add additional pickup sites outside of the southern Cameron County/Brownsville area.
The changes in her business are not temporary, she said. The way she and her vendors do business has been changed into a hybrid model no one could have imagined only a few months back.
“All of this puts a burden on us to continue,” Emerson said. “It’s a responsibility we now have.”
It will be a while, she thinks, before customers feel comfortable going back to the days of shopping in crowds and public places.
“There’s going to be a fear factor,” Emerson said of ongoing concerns with the coronavirus. “You just make it work (as a business). You look at it as a challenge and do the best you can.”