After too many days of too much TV time for a toddler with energy to burn, Charity Faulkingham decided it was time to get out.
She scooped up her daughter, Sarah, and headed to Beasley Farms in Brooksville.
There, she could pick up vegetables for the week, some freshly picked by Stacy Beasley-Noble just as the sun was coming up. Sarah, 3, could roam freely while feeding the chickens, goats and rabbits and giving a little extra love to a yellow Lab named Georgia.
Faulkingham made sure to come on a weekday, when a light but steady stream of customers meandered in, some wearing masks and gloves.
“I heard it was real busy here a few Sundays ago,” she said. “Everyone was talking about it on social media.”
Joann Beasley wasn’t prepared for the Sunday onslaught, when panic buying sent a flood of visitors to the family farm she oversees with her business partner, Rollo Menchaca.
The line of cars stretched down the road. Some were regular customers who frequent the farm’s booth at the Spring Hill Farmers Market that has shut down. Others were new customers, many looking for eggs.
The panic buying has died down, Beasley said, but there has been an uptick in new faces at the cash-only business.
“A lot of people don’t want to go in the grocery stores,” she said, adding “we’re getting about 25 calls a day for eggs. The chickens can’t lay them fast enough.”
Sharon Lowe, who comes for collard greens and kettle corn cooked by Stacy’s husband, Kenny Noble, isn’t surprised.
“It’s getting out,” she said. “They say outdoors with fresh air is the best thing. We just have to stay away from each other.”
Other local produce and farmers markets are seeing a similar uptick. Whether it’s sustainable is anyone’s guess.
“We are seeing tons and tons of new faces and ordering as much stock as we can hold,” said Eric Lassiter, manager of Bearss Groves, a longstanding farm stand in Tampa that houses a hydroponic garden and free-range chickens on site.
Eggs, along with locally-sourced, grass-fed beef, are the draw, according to owner Barry Lawrance.
As is the open air.
“With the outdoor market, people feel a little more comfortable, and it’s not as congested,” he said.
Lawrance is hopeful new customers will return when social distancing lets up, but he’s not counting on it.
The more people who come through the store the better, he said. “But people get complacent, and for convenience I have a feeling they’ll go back to what they’ve always done.”
It’s a mixed bag for John Gargiulo, owner of Grand Fresh Market in New Port Richey.
“We’re seeing anywhere from 20 to 50 percent increase in sales,” he said. “It would be greater, but when the restaurants we serve shut down, we lost a lot of business.”
To help meet the needs of a hurting community, Gargiulo lowered prices on some items temporarily. He also has offered free delivery to customers too afraid to come out and has volunteers delivering free produce to some who can’t afford to pay right now.
“A lot of my customers are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and now there’s no paycheck,” said Gargiulo.
What goes around comes around, he said, and some of that already has happened.
“One customer gave us a $100 bill when he heard what we were doing," he said. "A couple of local doctors called wanting to help out.” Others donated masks and gloves for his employees.
“We’re really happy to be in the community we are in,” he said, adding that new customers are unlikely to return when his prices go up. “I think it’s going to be pretty much a wash.”
The struggle to survive is real for Sam Frangie, owner of Fabi’s Farmer Market in New Port Richey. After losing his lease, he moved his produce market from Old State Road 54 to a strip mall on State Road 54 at the beginning of April.
“The timing couldn’t be worse,” he said. “We need to let my customers know I am here.”
Larry Truitt, who owns Rocky’s Philly Cheesesteaks and Hogies, still comes by regularly, as do other restaurant owners. But Frangie wonders for how long.
“The restaurants are doing take-out, but they’re very slow,” Frangie said. “Pizza restaurants are doing good; the rest seem to be dying.”
Long-time customers like Patty McCormack and Sandy Gilelair, who stopped by on Wednesday, said they were delighted to find him open.
“You can’t beat the fruit, the vegetables, and we like to support local businesses,” McCormack said, adding that she avoids the supermarket as much as she can.
“I make a list and get in and get the heck out,” she said.