With social distancing rules in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, some New Jersey farmers markets have found a new way to serve their vendors and customers.

The Metuchen Farmers Market just launched an online service so that customers can buy produce, meat, prepared foods and other locally produced items that they would normally buy from vendors in-person.

The ordering service is through Local Line, a Canadian-based online marketing platform that works with farmers and vendors to help them sell their products online. Much like grocery store online shopping services, customers can go onto the website to shop for their products, check out and get a designated pick-up time.

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Denville recently started using the same service for its farmers market.

“Supporting the local food chain is vital to our local economy and the economy overall. There was a need to give people this easy access to the pre-ordering system,” said Liisi Lascarro, founder and manager of the Denville Farmers Market.

Lascarro said that 90% of shoppers had masks on when they came to pick up their food on Sunday.

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“Everyone was keeping their distance and the pre-ordering system helped with the flow [of people] at the market. Shoppers were in and out without interacting with others unnecessarily,” Lascarro said.

Though Local Line was created four years ago, towns are now finding that the service is extremely helpful during the pandemic, allowing farmers and vendors to make sales during a time when so much of the economy is shut down.

“If we don’t sell our produce, we don’t stay in business,” said Jess Niederer, owner of Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington, which is participating in both the Metuchen and Denville online farmers’ markets.

“Food and farming are essential businesses. Our customers still need to eat healthy food,” she said.

Besides allowing people to safely shop during a pandemic, Local Line helps farmers and vendors lock in sales through pre-orders, increase their sales and reach more people, specifically those who might not be traditional farmers’ market shoppers, according to Local Line CEO Cole Jones.

Now with COVID-19, Jones said, online sales are basically the only option people have for purchasing food through a farmers’ market.

“When the farmer is more successful, we have a better food system for society,” Jones said.

How will using such an online service fare in the future after the COVID-19 pandemic is over? That may depend on how long the coronavirus lasts and the success of the virtual markets.

“We’re not sure how this is going to play out,” said Nelson Li, manager of the Metuchen Farmers Market. “We’ll have this 24/7 online ordering and weekly fulfillment for as long as it makes sense.”

Li watched on Saturday as a line of cars stopped in front of each vendor to pick up their food.

“Overall, the pickup went well,” Li said. “Shoppers shared comments about how safe and organized it was.”

How does the service work?

Visit metuchenfarmersmarket.com for more information and metuchenvirtualmarket.com to shop. Once on metuchenvirtualmarket.com, click on the words “Shop Now,” and begin your shopping. Once your order is completed, you pick it up by car on Saturdays. Shoppers arrive at the Halsey Street Parking Lot at their designated pick up time. Participating vendors and their products are listed on the site.

For the Denville Farmers’ Market, visit denvillefarmersmarket.com for more information and https://mycommunitymarketplace.com/shop-denville-farmers-market/ to shop. Customers can pick up their orders on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bloomfield Avenue Parking Lot in Downtown Denville. Participating vendors are listed on the site.

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Got a story you'd like to see on NJ Flavor? Email Jackie Lieberman at jlieberman@tapinto.net.