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Oscar Chavez evens out a row at Microledon Farm outside of Conway on Tuesday. The family farm specializes in organically grown lettuce, microgreens and edible flowers. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Those excited about strolling through Horry County's farmers markets will have to wait just a little longer.

“Because the safest measure against the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing, the market opening at all locations is being postponed to minimize any risk to shoppers and vendors during this pandemic,” said Samantha Tipton, executive director of the Waccamaw Market Cooperative, in a message to market vendors last week.

The markets usually open the first weekend in May and run through October. Tipton said at this point the markets won’t open until the first week of June at the earliest, and market organizers will reevaluate their timeline as they get further into May.

Their mobile market will not be operational during this time, either. 

City of Myrtle Beach spokesperson Mark Kruea said that Myrtle’s Market, that would have normally opened this week or next, is closed until further notice.

“We don’t have an opening date at this point,” Kruea said.

Gov. Henry McMaster’s office said last week that farmers markets aren’t technically affected by the governor’s previous closures.

“Farmers markets are not explicitly closed by the governor’s order because it is a good source for food and supporting local businesses, though in all circumstances, we encourage the organizers of such events to accommodate for the need for social distancing and proper personal hygiene practices,” said Brian Symmes, McMaster’s communications director.

The cooperative manages six markets: North Myrtle Beach, Surfside, Little River, Market Common, Downtown Conway, and Downtown Georgetown.

Farmers are trying to come up with ways to sell their crops before they spoil.

Oscar Chavez and his family at Microlodon Farms in Conway said he understands why the market isn’t opening yet, but it still stings.

About 80% of Chavez’s business previously came from selling microgreens to local restaurants. With the governor’s ban on sit-down dining, that’s impacted his livelihood.

“When a lot of them pulled out, that kind of hurt,” he said. “So we’re trying to figure out a way to do this."

Last year was his first time with Conway Farmer’s Market and he had big plans for this year’s crops.

“We got ramped up,” he said. “We hoped to hit the ground running this year with the market. Now with the market just sending the message that they are extending startup, I thought ‘Aw, come on!’”

His operation started with an urban garden behind a house he rented, but he recently moved to a larger five-acre property off S.C. 905.

They have salad greens, and root crops such as beets and carrots. They are also non-tractor based, meaning they use hand tools and have a walk-behind, self-propelled plow.

A 60-foot greenhouse for his property is in the works as well for more indoor growing.

“It’s crazy this is our first true year on this piece of property,” Chavez said. "It couldn’t have happened at a worse time."

He has reached out to other area farmers to see if they could put together a produce box to sell with “all different goodies” and hopes that comes to fruition.

Chavez has been offering home delivery of his goods within a certain radius. People can pay online and he drops it off with no contact. His website is www.microledonfarm.com

His farm has also partnered with Crooked Oak Tavern in Conway to serve as a pickup spot for those living outside of his delivery area.

“We’re not allowing people to come onto the farm for obvious reasons,” Chavez said.

“We’re just going to keep pushing forward, getting this farm going. When things get back to normal, we’ll be ready,” Chavez said.

Maintaining some type of business is critical after the extreme weather of the last five years - between oppressive, record-breaking heat and flooding, the recent years have been brutal.

“This is definitely going to be a make-or-break year for us,” William Hardee, an agronomy agent with Clemson Cooperative Extension told MyHorryNews.com earlier this month. “A lot of folks are hurting. … But the weather the last few years, I feel like the ag industry is probably hurting worse than anybody.”

Mike Rabon with Third Day Farms in the Allsbrook area said this year would be their third year with the market cooperative.

“Personally, I don’t know why they are pushed back,” he said. "We could separate the vendors more, require vendors to wear gloves, etc. I don’t understand. I am praying things will change and get better."

He plants “whatever is in season,” and said that includes squash, sugar snap peas, turnips, rutabagas, watermelons, different varieties of carrots, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard and beets.

Rabon is also going the way of online ordering and deliveries through his Facebook page, Third Day Farm S.C., and Instagram account, @thirddayfarmssc.

He said he usually sells at the Conway market, but they also participate in Surfside and when his wife is off of work, she will take their wares to the Market Common market, too.

Rabon said they make $300-$400 at each market, so this setback has them easily losing a couple thousand dollars among all their usual market participation.

“We’re just trying to find outlets to get rid of stuff, with all we’ve got planted,” Rabon said.

Katie Price with WK Price Farms said they are fortunate to be doing OK, as sales of their responsibly-raised, grass-fed beef are holding steady.

“We’re like the majority of the vendors who participate, in that our market season is our busy season,” Price said. “Having said that, we are also unique and we’re not like others in that we have product year-round that we can offer customers. Market season is definitely the busiest, and we do what we can to get through the winter.”

She said between markets being delayed and COVID-19, they have had to rethink their marketing strategy and how to offer their goods. They have offered home delivery of their items for the past five years within a 50-mile radius, she said, and continue to do so via their website, www.wkpricefarms.com

It’s a different mindset though, between the usual market customers and the home delivery customers.

“For home delivery, it’s pre-ordered, I don’t bring anything extra,” Price said. "At the markets people can walk up and see what I have left, more like shopping at a grocery store."

She hates that an outbreak like COVID-19 is responsible for giving them a slight bump in sales, but she is thankful for the business.

“People are scared right now,” Price said. "They see empty shelves and the thought of not being able to feed your family is a very, very scary thing."

Heather Solomon with Fisher Road Oils and Honey serves on the board of Waccamaw Market Cooperative and is a vendor for their markets as well.

“A lot of us do things outside the normal market season such as events and whatnot, but a lot of them have been cancelled or postponed,” Solomon said.

Solomon “wholeheartedly” supports the cooperative’s postponement of the markets, and is doing her best to sell her own wares online via her website www.fisherroadoilsandhoney.com and update her customers through Facebook.

“It’s all for the better of everyone in the community no matter where you are,” she said. “It does hurt. It hurts a lot. There are a lot of us out there struggling right now because we’re very small independent businesses that don’t qualify for a whole lot of assistance, especially the farmers. That is a big concern of mine.”

She is confident though that when the markets do open, business will be booming.

“I truly believe there is going to be overwhelming support, especially for farmers, small local businesses and artisans,” Solomon said. “It does impact us all a lot, and I really hope we can get back up and running when it is safe to do so. I think people are going to be anxious to come out and support.”

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