Durham Locally Grown

Previously, I’ve talked about Collaborative CSAs, a useful way to market farm goods that shares the burden of marketing goods from local sustainable farms.

While working at Spring Valley Ecofarms in the summer of 2011, I did some marketing and sales through the Athens Locally Grown market. The market has a pretty simple model. Let me walk you through it:

  1. Every weekend, the growers guesstimate what products they’ll have available towards the end of the week and post a list complete with pictures, exact quantities and variety descriptions.
  2. Late Sunday evening, the market manager sends out an email to subscribers listing available items.
  3. Customers log in, pick out what they want and click “order.” This order signifies their commitment to pay for those items.
  4. Growers pack and pick the order over the next couple days.
  5. Thursday evening before the market opens, growers arrive to drop off their goods.
  6. Customers arrive to pick up and pay. Behind the scenes, volunteers (who get a 10 percent discount) rush around to find each item that shows up in the order (synced up and clicked off with Locally Grown’s ipad/ipod touch/iphone app).

This market frees up more of producers’ and consumers’ most valuable resource: time. It allows the buyer to shop from multiple farms in a few clicks. I think it’s more convenient than a normal farmers’ market, perhaps even more convenient than shopping at the grocery store. As a grower, it’s a lot less stressful than working a stand at a more traditional farmers’ market all day; you just drop off your wares, pick up your check and get a chance to go home and enjoy some time with your family.

Another big advantage is the wholesale option. If farmers aren’t sure they’ll sell all of their goods at the normal price, they can set a wholesale price to market bulk orders to restaurants and other approved wholesale buyers (determined by the market manager). This could be a huge boon to restauranteurs that want to source more local goods, but may not have an established relationship with a farm.

There are of course some drawbacks. Consumers get less facetime with producers than at a normal farmers’ market. They can’t get the tasty samples that we’ve all enjoyed at a traditional farmers’ market. Then again, no single market is likely to fully support a farm business. Some combination of restaurant, markets and direct sales will always be necessary.

I think this model has a lot of potential here in Durham, N.C.  Durham has lots of independent restaurants, many of whom try to source ingredients locally, and an educated and tech-savvy consumer base.  If you’re interested in chatting more about launching a Locally Grown market here, I’d love input and networking contacts! We’ll eventually need farmers, volunteers, and an indoor space to organize farmer-produced goods.  Leave a comment below, Twitter me at @eric_bowen, or drop me a line at ericcbowen at gmail.

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