Tim Showalter Ehst began growing and selling organic vegetables at his family farm, Second Mountain Farm, four years ago on half an acre.
Inspired by the collaborative nature adopted by businesses during the pandemic, he began working to develop a network between other local growers and makers who share the same sense of responsibility to produce food that’s good for people and good for the planet.
On Tuesday, that dream came into focus as the first round of clients picked up orders from Rooted Market.
Rooted Market’s slogan is “eat well, be well,” and the website offers an array of goodies harvested and crafted in the Shenandoah Valley, such as Staff of Life breads, Blue Ridge Bucha beverages and Mountain Branch Creamery cheeses.
The concept behind the pop-up market is simple: Customers order food from local participating businesses online and choose a pickup time to come by the Ice House roundabout on Mondays or Thursdays for contact-free shopping.
“This allows people again to shop from their homes, so I think there’s a segment of people in Harrisonburg that are interested in supporting local businesses and buying local food,” Showalter Ehst said. “We think there’s a growing, continuing market for those types of products in Harrisonburg.”
Because farmers markets are set in the mornings and weekends, Showalter Ehst said there’s a market of customers who simply won’t or can’t make it out in time.
“It can be a consistent way to order and grab their groceries and not need to be up on a Saturday morning and not sifting through products,” he said.
The idea sprung from Staunton’s Local Food Drive-Thru, which began last March as a collaboration of the Alleghany Mountain Institute and regional farmers. Showalter Ehst was one such vendor who saw the continuous stream of clients remain interested in the drive-thru, even as pandemic restrictions subsided.
Georgia Meyer helps manage the Staunton initiative and was invited by Showalter Ehst to help him and fellow Rooted Market team member Kristen Grimshaw develop a separate branch in Harrisonburg.
Meyer said the interest in local food isn’t going anywhere, and the Staunton Drive-Thru has about 100 customers each week.
“Early in the pandemic, people got used to how easy it was,” Meyer said. “I hope we can really appeal to families and young people who want local food in a convenient space.”
Last summer, the Harrisonburg Farmers Market adopted an online ordering model for weekly contactless pickup at Turner Pavilion, but several vendors said sales declined and they welcomed the return to regular weekend markets with open arms.
Before Magpie Diner opened as a downtown brunch hot spot, the business offered a Magpie & Friends Market from the patio of Clementine Cafe. The virtual marketplace had biweekly pickups and sold food and products from more than 20 vendors, but it closed down when the restaurant opened for dine-in guests.
Showalter Ehst said the market was another big inspiration for Rooted Market, but he hopes the new initiative can partner with businesses across the entire Shenandoah Valley and even the state.
“We learned a lot from that market and some debt is due to Kirsten and Magpie Diner,” he said.
Currently, the online market has several Harrisonburg-based vendors involved, as well as syrups from Highland County’s Tonoloway Farm and cheeses from Staunton’s Ballerino Creamery.
“We’re trying to find the closest products for people that are produced ... the most responsible way possible, so vendors who are working really hard to make sure their production method is safe for the environment,” Showalter Ehst said.
Laura Green is a partner in J & L Green Farm, located in Edinburg. Offering home-grown food for community pickup is nothing new at J & L Green Farm, which has drop sites across the state and also is included in the sustainable assortment of foods delivered by 4P Foods.
Green said she believes in the model of Rooted Market because it’s a system their farm has practiced for 10 years and people are continuously becoming more invested in local food systems.
“It’s been really cool that more and more farmers have been brainstorming of how can we better serve our clientele,” Green said. “So many people have already been buying directly from farmers, but I think it’s cool how many people have become aware of the flexibility and convenience of buying directly from the farms and having that connection and knowing where it’s coming from.”
Rooted Market had its first round of orders picked up from Pale Fire Brewing on Monday evening, but Showalter Ehst said he’s excited for the market to expand as spring brings more fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers to the listing.
“Folks need to order for the Monday pickup by like Friday at midnight and then Monday midnight for the Thursday pickup so we can give our vendors enough lead time,” he said. “Some of the vegetable offerings especially will be different and change as the seasons change.”