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Date: April 6, 2020
James Madison University (JMU) students, their professor, JMU X-Labs, and local business and community partners are racing against the clock to help the Harrisonburg Farmers Market reopen on Saturday, April 11.
The plan is to assist the Farmers’ Market vendors to set up online stores where customers can order what they want and then pick up their orders at Turner Pavilion downtown, all while abiding by social distancing protocols necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
“We’re trying to support the market in continuing its important work during this unprecedented emergency, and these working conditions are new to everybody,” said Seán McCarthy, an associate professor in the School of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication.
Graduate students from McCarthy’s “Critical Perspectives on Digital Cultures” class are collaborating directly 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, comparing the approach to what he teaches in classes at JMU X-Labs, where students and faculty from multiple disciplines employ design thinking to tackle complex problems.
“We’re firefighting at the moment, just basically trying to get people online and get the message out there,” he said.
Harrisonburg Farmers Market manager Josie 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. “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, “but also maybe how can we take what we’ve learned and maybe help other markets around the country. Beyond that, we’re looking toward the future. Are there elements of what we are doing now that might make the market stronger when this time of crisis is over?”
Media contact: Eric Gorton, 540-908-1760, firstname.lastname@example.org