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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23 thoughts on “Durham Locally Grown

  1. As a direct-market farmer, I don’t really see the appeal. Here’s how I’d challenge you on the idea:
    Who gets to take part in a “sustainable” market like this? Are there any “sustainable” standards that effectively discriminate between real world farming options that local farmers face or does “sustainable” just mean paying some lip service to organic principles (as it seems to mean at the “sustainable” market I sell at)? If the market is giving its “sustainable” label to all the producers while failing any kind of meaningful discernment, won’t the consumers, who have even less invested in the arrangement than the market manager, simply trust that stamp of approval? I would say the whole point of trying to develop farmers’ markets or local food buying clubs, etc., etc. is to facilitate a different kind of agriculture (and the different kind of food it produces.) Does the multiple farm model serve that differentiation, and if it doesn’t, what’s the point? I can definitely see the consumer appeal, especially when these issues are multiplied through further levels of consumerism (e.g. restaurants), but what if consumerism is the root of the problem that “sustainable” agriculture ought to correct? Surely the Athens model compromises integrity — maybe integrity ought to be producers’ and consumers’ most valuable resource — for the sake of convenience, time-saving, and consumer choice. Giving suburban consumers more power to direct our agriculture surely won’t lead us in the right direction. Isn’t that how we wound up at the Super Walmart grocery section?

    1. I disagree with many of the political ideas you are bringing up. You suggest that consumer choices are the root problem with our food system. It sounds like you might be offering this idea as a thought experiement, which is useful thought avenue, but I challenge you to consider what drives those choices. I think that our food system’s primary problems are 1) a lack of public understanding about food and agriculture 2) a concentration of power and control among a small group of “too big to fail” “food” companies. These companies see our food system as a profit generator and have the power/capital to leverage political and media systems to perpetuate demand. I agree that people vote with their wallets and that this has helped develop a monster. Still, ignoring why people make those food choices seems odd to me and I disagree with your implication that if we take away consumers’ ability to vote with their dollars that it would improve anything. People are waking up and we should do everything we can to help build an alternative system for people to vote with their dollars. I’m not saying I think consumerism is a good thing, but I think it’s disingenuous to place the blame on consumer ignorance as opposed to the political and economic machines that made the consumers ignorant in the first place.

      To get beyond politics, let’s tie this back into the discussion about locally grown: It seems possible that locally grown and other farmers’ markets are just what you suggest we need, a tool to promote local agriculture. As far as “differentiation,” it’s pretty easy in my opinion… Much like other social media, each farm creates a profile and provides links to their farm’s website. You can give virutual farm tours as well, something you can’t do at a traditional farmers’ market. Through locallygrown.net, farmers also provide images and detailed descriptions of the varieties that they are providing.

      To get those customers to their page on Locally Grown, many of these farmers already differentiated themselves in person and said “hey, look me up on locallygrown.net!” In other cases they are very new (eg. first/second-year farmer or a homesteader who didn’t have a viable outlet for their goods) and only really know the market manager or a volunteer. This may sound like a threat to existing farmers with a good base of customers, but I think it really draws in a different crowd and I definitely think it draws in a very different crowd to a CSA. It might be a good outlet for CSA growers to sell produce that they don’t think their share-holders could use, so I see them as two marketing strategies with a lot of potential ‘synergy.’

      You’re right though that this online market can’t solve every problem. Someone still has to decide who is allowed to sell within the market, meaning power is concentrated somewhere. Still, this model is a lot more democratic than a grocery store where the powers that be determine every product that we “choose” from before we even have that illusory choice. CSAs can definitely improve on both models, but, as I say in the Collaborative CSA post (and as you have mentioned in the past), this model can require HUGE investments of time and energy. Not every producer can handle that type of investment. Should that mean they are barred from selling their produce? What if they use really good methods but they produce a limited amount? What if they’re physically disabled in some way that prevents them from working 50+ hours a week to run a CSA? The locally grown market can be a great outlet for all of these groups and even a few backyard gardeners. If they meet the environmental guidelines and other market standards, they will probably be allowed to sell. It helps less food go to waste and helps increase market accessibility for both farmers and consumers. The food movement needs more people involved not fewer.

  2. Eric, thanks very much for the reply! The ideas you brought up in that first paragraph of your comment are particularly interesting discussion points. I agree very much that “1) a lack of public understanding about food and agriculture [and] 2) a concentration of power and control among a small group of ‘too big to fail’ ‘food’ companies” are critical, fundamental problems, but aren’t those problems just attributes of consumerism? How much are consumers really going to understand about food and agriculture if yet another separation is added between consumers and farmers (farmers that would otherwise sell at farmers’ markets or through CSA’s)? The problem of understanding is surely inseparable from the problem of consumers having lost their connections to the land. Surely life in front of an ipad isn’t the path to reconnectedness! That’s not to say that communication technology can’t play a role in making contacts, but only if real world connections follow will those contacts lead to real understanding. And as for breaking the control of the corporate system, are ipads really going to give an advantage to local producers? Surely our “home field advantage” comes from the face-to-face communication and the personal relationships and trust that come from that direct interaction. I see any step away from that home field as a slippery slope to ground where the corporate system will outcompete or corrupt us.
    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that taking away consumers’ ability to vote with their dollars is the alternative to consumerism. The alternative is not to define questions in terms of dollars and purchases. The alternative to consumerism is to reconnect with the land, at the extreme by growing/producing food, etc. for oneself, and at the margins by shortening supply lines and making deeper connections with farmers. And I certainly don’t mean to “[ignore] why people make those food choices…” The system of consumerism (of working directly or indirectly for the corporate system to earn money to buy food from a system in which no particular farm and no particular farmer really matters) IS the system of how people make food choices today.
    I think you’re grossly exaggerating the degree of differentiation that online markets provide. First of all, online interactions tend to be shallow, especially when, as you suggest, the primary motive is to invest less time in buying food (freeing up consumers’ “most valuable resource.”) Secondly, online markets only add to the problem of public understanding by facilitating further separation between consumers on the one side, and farms and farmers on the other. Thirdly, online markets encourage — one might even say their whole point is to enable — consumers to put together “baskets” of goods from lots of different sources. That means that the investment that any consumer makes in any particular farm is that much less, that much shallower, that much less discerning.
    The example of Athens Locally Grown demonstrates a lot of the shallowness. How many consumers are really going to dig deeper (or even have the understanding of agriculture necessary to dig deeper into anything but ignorant confusion) than the banner: “No growers in this market use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides!”? Is that a credible claim to you? Do the beekeepers really not use any PDB for storing their honey combs? One of the goat dairies explicitly states that it uses annual de-worming medications. Aren’t all the farms selling animal products relying on feeds grown with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (not to mention GMO’s)? What value can you really place on those kinds of market standards? For me, these examples confirm that online marketing is generally a step in the wrong direction.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    I really appreciate where you’re coming from. Some of the things these growers are doing might be considered unsustainable. But aren’t they better than the industrial mainstream? I don’t think we can use the best practices until we build a vibrant alternative. For that, we need money. We need livelihoods. This means increasing access to consumers who have the right motivations, but might not have enough time to devote to a special trip to the farmers’ market every week. Until we get more people involved, fully sustainable local food will be a niche product that only accounts for up to 5% of the market (direct-to-consumer sales are currently ~0.4%). If things outside the food system change in terms of jobs and how long the work-week is, then I think the things you are suggesting would be possible. In the current environment, this is just a tool that is particularly helpful for linking new customers with new growers. Once the new growers are financially secure they can take more risks to find the absolutely most sustainable production methods. Remember sustainability is about more than just the earth, it’s about people too.

    In terms of home-field advantage, I think innovation and technology are something we have on our side. Social media has helped spur revolutions in the Arab world, why not our food system? That happened because people used technology as a tool. They used it to connect in the real world and make something special happen. I think local food innovaters and supporters are largely well-educated and people of privilege, so I think we can adopt these tools and adapt to a changing world much faster than comparatively slow, bureaucratic corporate systems. Online markets may not be perfect, but they can certainly provide more face-to-face interaction than the grocery store. They’re perhaps *more* convenient than the grocery store and it particularly helps involve new customers and restaurants start to develop that first taste of local food. If they like it, maybe they’ll finally join a CSA?

    So yeah, I don’t think this market is the end goal, but a means to an ends. It’s a way to increase access in the current fast-world, fast-car, fast-food environment. If we somehow move on to a 90%+ slow-money, slow-food world, this market probably won’t have a place in the world anymore, but I doubt that is ever going to happen. So, I see this market as an option. I am going to take action and see what I can do to help something like this or other innovative markets reach more people, especially ones that might help include previously under-represented groups (eg. young farmers, new farmers, low-resource farmers and farmers of color).
    Best,
    -Eric

  4. I guess there are two ways to look at marketing: I’m saying the way small-scale farmers would otherwise sell their products might better foster sustainability, and you seem to be suggesting that some consumers might otherwise support farms that aren’t making any special efforts toward sustainability at all. I’m certainly suspicious that efforts to appeal to the fast-car, fast-food, fast-world will have the end effect of limiting the depth and integrity of the whole sustainable movement.
    I definitely agree that our plans should be all about how to best operate in the <5% margin for the foreseeable future. I'm not at all sure that the enthusiasm the local food movement has seen over the last 10 to 15+ years is going to last. I certainly hope it can keep going, but I think we should hedge our bets, too, and not build an alternative agricultural system that's overly dependent on fair weather fans. I think we should also be increasingly concerned about continuing dependence on support from mainstream agriculture. Dependence on large-scale grain farmers is probably the biggest example I can think of. I think we should be working urgently to develop a means of growing grain locally on a <5% (probably <1/10 of 1%) kind of scale. I just feel more urgency to deepen the sustainable movement than to expand it.

    1. I think you have mistaken my meaning. I am of the opinion that we should try to reach more than 0.4% of the market (ever heard of NC Choices and their 10% target?). I don’t think we will achieve that with currently available strategies of CSAs and farmers’ markets. I think these online markets could bring in new people in a new part-time customer role, but also help match people up with CSAs and other direct marketing strategies. Perhaps it would be valuable to think of them as a “bridge” technology to a sustainable future. I also see this venue as a next generation method for direct marketing/food-buying clubs, where the club is much more amorphous and flexible.

      I am wondering, though, do you think we can deepen the movement without also expanding it? Without more marketshare, I’m not sure we can build the linkages necessary to support a deeper alternative. Also, how useful is it if <1% of society is totally decoupled from the mainstream food system when the other 99% is using up resources that are essential for modern technologies (eg. I have relatives that could not survive without modern pharmaceuticals, some of which I’m pretty sure we need fossil fuels to manufacture). Also, I'm pretty sure these decoupled, sustainable food systems exist on a few intentional community/eco-villages out there, but in my opinion they aren't having the impact that I think we need to keep moving forward.

  5. Hi Eric,
    The sustainable food movement can waste a lot of energy and submit to very unsustainable consumer pressures all for the sake of selling to customers whose values are fundamentally opposed to sustainable farming, all without developing the kind of relationships, trust, or communication necessary to successfully effect changes in those values. That 0.4% of dollars you talk about probably doesn’t represent a tenth as much acreage. It’s fluff, agri-tourism, and a likely short-lived fashion fad. (More important than the 0.4%, however, are the farm products that are grown at home and never get sold. Sustainability shouldn’t be measured in dollars sold.) Do you really think making our farms suburban-consumer-friendly is the way to expand sustainable agriculture? How would you reconcile that with the reality that modern “middle class” life can only support sustainable agriculture at the margins? The biggest reason chemical-industrial agriculture has conquered most of the food supply in countries like ours is that it’s offered ways to cut short-term dollar costs, right? It used to take well over 50% of the average person’s labor just to produce food, and that was with all the advantages (economies) of being mainstream. How many sustainable farmers (and middlemen, if there are any) working full-time do you think it takes to provide 100 people a full diet? Divide that by the percentage of the average sustainable farmer’s revenue that goes to labor (i.e. if 1/3 of his gross is actual net income for the farmer, then multiply the number of farmers by 3), and that’s the percentage of the average budget that it would take to eat sustainably. That’s likewise the percentage of the sustainably eating population that would have to give up their office/retail/professional/government/etc. (i.e. middle class) jobs in order to produce that much food. Run the numbers with whatever level of sustainability you want to call sustainable, and the obvious conclusions are that only a tiny margin want to give up everything it would take to spend that much of their budgets/workweek on food, and that only a tiny margin would be willing to trade their middle class jobs for manual labor. We can pretend that we’re going to get somewhere by offering only the least-cost-difference parts of the diet (fresh vegetables) and luxury goods (goat cheese), but how much do middle class Americans spend on fresh, seasonal vegetables and goat cheese? Maybe about 0.4% of their budgets? Talk about limited market potential! It’s a good starting place for as few sustainably-minded farmers as there are, but appealing narrowly to that segment is no way to grow market share. To answer your question, how useful is what <1% of the population does, the answer is precisely how useful sustainability is. It will be half again as useful if we meet the mainstream halfway. How far can the <1% afford to dilute their efforts? Shouldn't we instead be focusing on building the kind of connections (personal trust to replace the natural distrust that comes from corporate exploitation at every turn) necessary to displacing conventional agriculture? We should welcome the mainstream to make gradual/marginal moves toward sustainability — that's something eco-villages don't very well offer — but the way to change the mainstream is to leverage our 0.4% for all the communication and personal interaction we can get out of it, not to hide behind an ipad screen.

    1. I’m not entirely sure I understand everything you’re saying. But to address your lead-in, in my opinion, education and outreach are never wasted energy. If we build a bridge and mention discuss its existence to people, some of the people we talk with will walk across it. I see online marketing as a bridge, or (because of its flexibility) perhaps even a raft.
      We need to meet people half-way. Right now, the mechanisms/marketing strategies in place do not mesh with the average American’s lifestyle. The internet is a tool with huge possibility to build bridges if a few of us will just put in the hour or so of weekly effort. This hour or so of weekly effort can open up an entirely new market within the (admittedly shrinking) middle-class and any other group that might like to shop online.
      This market can improve efficient connections between farmer and consumer, while cutting out industrial food distribution network. Efficiency is not the problem, it’s profits being put before people and the natural resources that we depend on.

  6. If your goal is to see sustainable agriculture “mesh with the average American’s lifestyle,” then your goal is to suck any integrity out of sustainable agriculture and turn it into a superficial sham (which is as much as will mesh with the average American’s lifestyle.)
    When you say efficiency is not the problem, are you saying that we can eat sustainably without major changes in our budgets and without leaving our “middle class” (i.e. other-than-manual-labor) jobs behind?
    Finding ways to interact less with customers hardly sounds like “building bridges.” It sounds like failing to leverage our relationships to effect sustainable changes in the mainstream.

    1. My goal is to see sustainable, local food systems succeed and grow. That means reaching more people. It can’t do that without adaptation. The methods of today or yesterday probably won’t work tomorrow. The farmers I know are some of the most adaptable people in the world. They can fix a tractor with a coat hanger. They can deliver a calf in a blizzard. They can talk to an SUV driver or someone that doesn’t own a car. I don’t think this market is an effort “to suck any integrity out of sustainable agriculture and turn it into a superficial sham,” but we need to be cognizant of the difference between superficial changes and meaningful ones. I think this market CAN be used meaningfully, but it requires conscious effort by everyone involved, particularly the growers, market managers and volunteers.

      I’m not saying that we don’t need drastic changes, I’m just saying that to reach more people in the current landscape, traditional farmer’s markets are not enough. We need to get more people on board and move in a better direction together.

      The online market is NOT about forgoing customer interaction. True, if it supplants traditional farmer’s markets at all it might mean hundreds fewer mundane financial interchanges per week. This can free them up a few hours a week to go have a meaningful conversation with a customer, perhaps a restaurant owner, a CSA subscriber or another farmer during the locally grown dropoff.

    2. I just wanted to be clear, I appreciate your comments. Greenwashing is a serious challenge we face as a movement, but I think the quoted words above are a bit strong.

  7. I don’t mean to impute any motives to you, but whatever your stated or intended goal, pushing sustainable agriculture to “mesh with the average American’s lifestyle” will surely have the effect of sucking the integrity out of sustainable agriculture and turning it into a superficial sham. Our agriculture and our lifestyle are two sides of the same coin. Like Wendell Berry says, “If you’ve got 300 million people, most of whom produce nothing for themselves or for the community and to whom everything has to be brought from somewhere else, then there’s no way you’re going to have limited government, or limited anything. All organizations feed upon the helplessness and ignorance and passivity of the people.” There’s no making dramatic, positive changes on the backs of helpless, ignorant, passive people; there’s only “feeding” (i.e. your superficial sham.) As Berry said elsewhere, “We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibilities that have been turned over to governments, corporations, and specialists, and put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and household and neighborhoods.” Sustainable farmers can’t be “specialists” that feed the passive consumers living the “average American lifestyle.” Berry again: “Might it not be, I thought, that subsistence farming is the very definition of good farming–not at all the anachronism that the ‘agribusinessmen’ and ‘agriscientists’ would have us believe? Might it not be that eating and farming are inseparable concepts that belong together on the farm, not two distinct economic activities as we have now made them in the United States? Is not ‘agribusiness’ the name of farming divorced from eating?”

    To relate this more directly to the online buying club plan, there are clearly ways that small-scale, local farmers can greenwash conventional agriculture and sell it for the superficial sham. Farmers can and do (including Athens Locally Grown) feed chemical-intensive, GMO grain to animals and call the end product “sustainable,” “pastured,” and say “we use no pesticides on our farms,” and they aren’t using any pesticides on their “farms,” because their farms are merely feeding operations based on someone else’s actual farming that produced their conventional feed, which certainly wasn’t grass (i.e. “pasture”.) Likewise organic farmers can control worms in their swine by simply timing their synthetic medication injections to avoid the last trimester; they can avoid using synthetic nitrogen fertilizers by using chemical-intensive, GMO oilseed meal grown with chemical fertilizers; they can use synthetic amino acids to raise meat birds on dry feed mixes by successfully lobbying the organic standards board to allow synthetic methionine; they can avoid the trouble of completing nutrient cycles by depending simply on the wastes/manures of conventional agriculture (which, of course, dooms organic agriculture to a fringe byproduct of a conventional mainstream.) If you really want “to see sustainable, local food systems succeed and grow,” then consumers need to be able to differentiate between the above frauds and real local sustainability. That’s obviously not going to happen on the electronic platform, especially not when each customer is making a small investment in each of a large number of specialized “local farms.” What obviously will happen is the “feed[ing] upon the helplessness and ignorance and passivity of the people.” Consumers can only support sustainable agriculture to the extent that they can tell the difference between sustainable agriculture and the superficial shams posing as sustainable agriculture, and the only way that’s going to happen is if consumers build deep and personal connections with a very limited number of farms.

    The online market IS about forgoing customer interaction. Get real! You think these customers that don’t want to get out of the SUV’s or unglue their faces from their ipads to walk through a farmers’ market are going to take the time to meet up with a farmer for no reason except to discuss the deeper points of sustainable agriculture? That’s not bridge building; that’s wasted opportunities. Farmers need to be leveraging those interactions at the farmers’ market, not throwing them away to save the the time of 3% of their workweek (at a cost of 10% of their sales.) If we want to reach people, we need to interact with people, and we need to use the reasons that consumers come to us as farmers for that purpose.

  8. I think I could make the same point about face-to-face interactions. Just like online marketing, face-to-face marketing can foster EITHER deep OR superficial relationships. BOTH can put profits in the hands of corporations or communities. Just because something happens face to face vs. online does not mean the conversation is necessarily less real. If you really think that’s the case, why are you talking to me about such in depth topics online?

    I think greenwashing is a huge danger, but I don’t think it’s anything inherent about the introduction of technology to the movement. The problems you are talking about are temporary cheats that no farmer that claims the label “sustainable” is happy about using. Sure, it happens. It will happen less as farmer’s livelihoods are actually lively instead of scraping by. If I can say one good thing about this market is that it puts the hands in the pockets of farmers that all say they want to do the right thing. Similarly, the money is all coming from people that say they want to do the right thing. To allow both groups to do more of good things we need new ways to connect the two groups. The way to do that is build a movement as wide as it is deep.

    I think we’re beating two ends of the same dead horse right now. Can we move on?

  9. Two ends of the same horse? That’s begging the question, isn’t it?

    Isn’t it misleading to characterize the trade-off as between face-to-face and online conversations? If a consumer enters a username, password, and a few quantity numbers on an online order form, where’s the “conversation”? There isn’t any and it offers hardly any prospect of ever leading to any, right? Sure, a young newcomer/outsider to a community selling a limited category of farm goods to a wide audience at a farmers’ market for a year or two in a place that he doesn’t intend to stay might find the interactions mundane, but there are several other places to lay blame for that besides the farmers’ market model.

    But aside from where the conversations take place, how many farmers do you expect these fast-food consumers to meaningfully interact/converse with? Might not diversification (i.e. one farmer supplying a lot of things to a small number of customers) serve the cause of conversation much better than specialization (i.e. each farmer supplying a small share of the food budget to a large number of people)? What marketing methods are more compatible with diversification and what marketing methods are more compatible with specialization? (Specialization is the economic opposite of local, right?)

    As to cheating the sustainable cause, do you really believe that increasing the profit incentive would decrease cheating? Isn’t the real solution what Wendell Berry says, that “subsistence farming is the very definition of good farming”? Who are people less likely to cheat and more inclined to trust to deliver the real goods than themselves? Isn’t that the model of good farming we should be imitating (by shortening supply lines/cutting out middlemen/diversifying, and by deepening consumer connections to particular farms instead of spreading consumers and farmers thin)?

  10. Sorry for the long post, Eric–I found this through another blog entry you shared on G+ and got all excited–I think online buying clubs are awesome. I work on an veggie farm near Utica NY that sells to one (http://www.thefoodshedutica.com/), in addition to selling at 2 farmers markets and having a 30-40 member CSA. (TL;DR: It hasn’t taken away from the markets or CSA, but rather become a valuable source of income and marketing that complements the other ventures, for many of the reasons you mentioned in your original post.)

    One major reason for the Foodshed’s succes may be the relative scarcity of large farmers markets in the area. The farmers market closest to Utica (15 minutes away) only operates on Thursdays in June-October. This is where my employers make the most money. However, the market’s hours are inconvenient for people who work 9-5 jobs. The other market they sell to occurs on Saturdays but it’s an hour away from Utica. There are a few uber-dedicated Utica foodies that drive out to it but most of the customers there are from smaller towns closer to it. Because it’s online, and pickup occurs in the city on Friday evenings, the Foodshed is currently the only major source of local & sustainable food in Utica that’s convenient to working people.

    There seems to be little conflict with the CSA–people who don’t have a CSA share because they want specific items can choose what they want through the Foodshed, while people who are already CSA members can buy things different from what they got in their box that week. In fact, the Foodshed may attract future CSA members as customers come to appreciate the quality of the products and become more interested in forming a closer relationship with their farmers.

    Farmers markets are extremely unpredictable; sometimes you go to market and sell out of everything, some days you may hardly sell a thing. Unsold produce is sometimes brought to the other market or put in CSA boxes (depending on timing), but unfortunately it’s often too wilted or beat up. As you said, online orders let the farmers know days ahead of time exactly how much they need to harvest, and that’s less stressful and results in less waste. Being able to sell products outside of the farmers markets is really important up here where the markets are only open for a few months. Through the online buying club, my employers can sell seedlings in the spring and root vegetables in the winter.

    Finally, the Foodshed has been a great source of marketing and education. People write reviews for products, which boosts sales not only in the club but also at market for those customers who patronize both. Foodshed advertises the markets and CSAs through newsletters, events, and social media. Events (farm tours, cooking classes, movies, lectures, potlucks..) organized through the buying club create a face-to-face community that networks farmers, consumers, restaurants, and organizations. Customers don’t get to meet the farmer when they order or pickup, but they get to meet them at the events (plus events can sometimes be a better time to have a conversation with a farmer than a busy market, anyway). Generally, the events are open to the general public so they educate not only the Foodshed customers but also the wider community about sustainable food systems. There’s more that could be done, but it’s off to a great start.

    It’s possible that in communities with different dynamics, online buying clubs could be too much competition for farmers markets and CSAs, or otherwise be problematic. There’d need to be some marketing research done to see if one would work in Durham, certainly, but I think it’s a great idea and definitely has potential! (When I was at UNC a few years ago I thought I heard about one starting–maybe it went under?)

    1. On the contrary, thanks very much for your long post! You highlight another major advantage for this system: both the buyer and seller (which could be a farmer to farmer transaction) can decide if there’s going to be enough items/sales at the market to make it worth the gas costs. This means if there happens to be a flukey growth spurt in the winter, you can have a flush of produce at the market! Still, in a place like Durham, it complements more than competes with established markets.

      As far as I kno, Locally Grown doesn’t organize farm tours, but they work with a non-profit there in Athens called PLACE that does. They also make sure there’s space and a sign-up list for growers that want to set up a table and get some face time. This is pretty ideal because they are JUST there for face time. They’ve already sold their produce and the volunteers are the ones packing it up for folks. It’s pretty slick I think, and takes out any real pressure to make a sale. It’s entirely about face-time in this circumstance.

      There is Carolina Grown here, but it’s not entirely clear to me how they work. Their website indicates that they partner with a “variety of farms.” That’s a distiction that I think is crucial to make, Locally Grown facilitates direct interaction between the grower and the customer. It is not a reseller or even really a business of its own. It’s bascially just the entity that pays the rent (through membership fees and usually a 10% fee from the farmers’ sales) and lets the farmer do their thing.

  11. Wow that’s a lot of debate!

    1. There is no reward for being right. ARGGHH DAMMIT!

    Lots of people have been doing the right thing (farming sustainably, for example) all along. They are not going to get the credit they deserve. It sucks, but that just seems to be the way of things.

    Look on the bright side: historically, lots of other people who have been very right about things have been burnt at the stake. I know that doesn’t ring much cheer, but.. well at least “farming this way since 1972” will soon make you seem more of a hero than a throwback.

    2. Innovation in food production and supply is desperately required. On a colossal scale.

    3. We are collaborators in change, not competitors. With such market dominance from old-school industrialised players, we can not afford to compete with each other, too.

    3. We need hundreds of thousands of new, small, local food producers, processors, retailers, and caterers.

    4. We need abundant communication, cooperation, and network transparency to encourage efficient resource use, pre-competitive collaboration, and knowledge sharing to educate participants.

    5. We need to lower the barriers to participation…

    6. .. and increase its rewards, by paying a fair price which reflects the absorbed externalities (NOT polluting, NOT allow the soil to be degraded, NOT spraying chemicals..)

    I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that this will lead to stronger relationships between people and their food suppliers, and between those suppliers and THEIR suppliers, and so on.

    Short supply chains are an inevitability as we respond to increasing costs and a shifting social structure and environmental conditions.

    Interestingly this blog posts came just as someone mapped a farmers market on Sustaination: http://app.sustaination.co.uk/businesses/parliament-hill-farmers-market

    This is our answer to the above set of criteria: a service to all food enterprises which makes it easy to find each other, connect up, and trade to realise mutual advantages.

    It’s free for anyone to get involved. Whilst it is in beta at the moment, do feel free to get stuck in.

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