When the Boise Farmers Market opened this spring in the midst of the pandemic, like many businesses, it had to adapt. Instead of an open-air market casually perused by thousands each weekend, the market now conducts the majority of its business online: beginning each Tuesday morning, customers can sign up for time slots to visit the Saturday market (or schedule to have them delivered), then add produce and local goods to their online carts. On Saturday, they drive through the market, located in the 1500 Shoreline Drive, at their appointed time to pick up their groceries.
The new system works wonderfully, says Boise State biology professor and Boise Farmers Market board member James Smith. The market currently has the capacity to fill 700 orders, connecting Boise residents with fresh, local food from roughly 52 farmers in the Treasure Valley. There’s just one hitch: now more than ever, the market depends on volunteers to be successful. About 100 volunteers, working in three-hour shifts each week, keep the market running smoothly and efficiently.
Smith volunteers at the market each weekend and is encouraging Boise State employees to sign up and help out in July and August.
“We are hoping to get groups to volunteer,” he said. “It would be great to see some of the university departments or programs gather a group of volunteers for one weekend, or even one weekend a month. Everyone could be in their best blue and orange!”
For the safety of everyone, all volunteers wear a mask and gloves the entire time they are working.
“Distributors carry full bags to cars, baggers put the food into the bags, pickers fill the orders by going to groups of vendors and other volunteers serve as ‘store’ managers to pull the items the pickers need,” Smith explained. “In the midst of all of that are sanitation czars who regularly clean the bus tubs and tables.”
Smiths says that volunteering on a regular basis has been a consistent highlight during the pandemic.
“There are so many challenges that we see each day that it can be overwhelming to stay in isolation and fret about not being able to do anything,” he said. “Each week I know that I have helped keep local agriculture alive and put some fantastic food in people’s homes where they have had minimal contact and minimal chance to contract coronavirus.”
Smith himself grew up on a dairy farm in Maine. His love of, and respect for, small farms led him to join the Boise Farmers Market board seven years ago.
“Farmers’ markets are a great way for farmers to get their product directly to consumers and by skipping the middle man, farmers make a higher margin on the product,” he said. In addition, “Food that is grown locally uses a lot less carbon to get it from the field to the table and many small farms have sustainable agricultural practices such that a diversity of organisms (think native pollinators).”
Smith added that while volunteering isn’t for everyone, there are other ways to support the farmer’s market during this time.
“The BFM drive-thru is a great way to get excellent food that has not been touched by as many hands as food at a grocery store has. You can still do your part to cut down carbon emissions and keeping small family farms alive, just by eating local food,” he said.