Students from James Madison University, along with faculty, JMU X-Labs and local business and community partners, are racing against the clock to help the Harrisonburg Farmers Market reopen on Saturday, according to a press release.
The plan is to help farmers market vendors set up online stores where customers can order what they want and pick up their orders at Turner Pavilion downtown, all while abiding by social distancing protocols necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release.
“It’s been a really amazing experience for my students, and to see the JMU community actively trying things to improve the lives of the community at large,” said Seán McCarthy, an associate professor in the School of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication. “We want to keep the vendors and farmers going.”
This idea came about after McCarthy spoke with his neighbor, Josie Showalter, about the farmers market being shut down and the impact of that on the vendors. Showalter is the manager for the Harrisonburg Farmers Market.
The market, which normally runs on Saturdays from December through March before expanding to Tuesdays and Saturdays from April through November, shut down for two weeks to establish a drive-thru/pickup service.
Graduate students from McCarthy’s “Critical Perspectives on Digital Cultures” class are collaborating with market vendors to help them set up online stores and designing a social media campaign to let customers know the market remains in operation.
Meanwhile, JMU X-Labs lab manager Aaron Kishbaugh is working with local entrepreneur and JMU alumna Amanda Presgraves on the logistics of packaging orders and delivering them safely to customers while researching best practices from other markets nationwide.
“We’re all swarming around a problem, looking at it from a variety of perspectives and expertise to see what we can do to fix it,” McCarthy said.
Showalter said the help is coming at a critical time because many of the vendors are busy with their farming activities and don’t have a lot of extra time to figure out how to set up online shops.
“I don’t think we could have done this without the help of Seán’s students and JMU X-Labs,” Showalter said in a press release. “We’re so stretched on resources. Trying to get everything in place is absolutely daunting. My anxiety level has dropped about 70%.”
McCarthy and Showalter both said the work to keep the market operating during the health crisis could pay off down the road too.
“Right now, it’s ‘How do we solve a pressing problem for the farmers market?’” McCarthy said. “Are there elements of what we are doing now that might make the market stronger when this time of crisis is over?”