Whether it's a crushing hailstorm or an unexpected drop in temperatures, farmers know how to deal with adversity.

No one, however, has had to work through a crisis like the one brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

But farmers are finding a way through the Main Street Market on Saturdays in downtown Baton Rouge and Thursdays' Red Stick Market at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, 6400 Perkins Road. 

Both markets, which are operated by the Big River Economic Alliance and Development Alliance, are now serving customers with drive-thru operations. And, it's working. 

Last Thursday at Pennington, strawberries were sold out by 11 a.m.

And the line of cars still stretched along Pennington's back road remained long even as the noon closing time approached. 

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"We don't have as many farmers as we had before the coronavirus pandemic, but today we have more customers," said Copper Alvarez, BREADA executive director. "We have a lot more customers as a drive-thru market than we did as a walk-through market."

The new drive-thru safety rules were put into place to ensure social distancing. Payment and bags of produce are handed through car windows.

"I think the response is greater because people feel safer with the drive-thru format at this time," Alvarez said. "But with less farmers, our business is still down. A lot of farmers aren't coming because they're helping older and more vulnerable family members stay home. But business is good for those here today."

For now, the markets are operating on a week-to-week basis, with both markets open from 8 a.m. to noon.

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Alvarez stops each driver at the entrance to find out what they'd like to buy. For greens, they can go the beige tent, where Fekete Farms is selling spinach, turnip and mustard greens.

For locally milled flour and cornmeal, she directs them to the Bonnecaze Farm booth on the other side of the parking lot.

Shoppers also can stop at any booth along the way.

"They can also place orders with the farmers through their websites ahead of time, then pick them up here," Alvarez said.

And though the line was long, it moved quickly with many customers stopping to thank Alvarez, even when she had to tell them the strawberries were sold out.

"God bless you, Copper," one driver said. "We're so thankful that you're keeping this going."


Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com