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Virtual Farmer's Market
Sarah Rich, 20 Jun 06

pugetsoundsetup.jpg Nothing is quite as satisfying as seeing the fusion of new technologies to assist the progress of traditional practices and community agendas. I've just been pointed towards a new entrepreneurial venture that connects local farmers and food producers with local consumers via online networking.

Former Whole Foods Market employee, Heather Hilleren, witnessed local farmers repeatedly facing barriers in trying to use large grocery chains as channels to sell their modest quantities of fresh, local produce. For many large institutions, buying food from a distributor thousands of miles away is actually easier than sourcing from a producer two miles away. But that kind of situation can be remedied with a little organization and a localized, digital network. So she decided to set up a virtual farmer's market to facilitate access to fresh, local food no matter where a person lives.

Greenleaf Market functions like an eBay for local food, putting buyer and seller into direct contact and cutting out middlemen:

Local farmers will be able to post what they have to sell, such as fresh produce and meats. Buyers will be able to browse through the offerings and make online purchases from the farmers. Greenleaf will charge sellers a fee, perhaps 2% of a sale. Buyers will pay an annual subscription fee, that hasn't been finalized, to use the service. Buyers and sellers will be responsible for making their own arrangements for payments and deliveries. Hilleren said she will stay out of the transactions as much as possible.

This appears to be an ingenius, simple tool. Both buyer and seller can get precisely what they want, in the quantity they want, directly from the source. I'll be very curious to see whether it succeeds.

via: O'Reilly Radar. Thanks, Matt!

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ooh, I like that idea. I actually thought of trying to start up something very similar to this. Though, I think their website could use a bit of an overhaul...

I always visualised being able to go to a website & type in my zip code, and then get a list showing all of the food groups that are available within 10/20/30/50/100/etc miles. Then being able to click each type of food and see where that food is sold & at what price, and how much is left over that has yet to be sent to supermarkets/restaraunts/etc.

This takes into account both sides. Consumers will be able to see prices as well as what companies are buying it up; be it supermarkets, restaraunts, etc. Businesses could also see, roughly, how much is available of each particular foods, and prices of everything.

I'm not sure if a voting system would be counterproductive... But I can also visualize a place where people can sign up for an account and vote for what kind of food they want, and then farmers can use that data to figure out what to grow, as well as supermarkets figuring out how many people claim they want that local food from a local farm.

This all sound complex, but with all the money spent in the food sector, i'm suring building something like that would be relatively chump change, and could be universally used accross the states as a standard almost...

Posted by: Francis Scully on 20 Jun 06

Bravo! I think diverse and local supply is a very good thing.

Although not an auction, Local Harvest seems to offer a similar web service. "Family farmers sell their [organic] products directly to the public."

Plenty of product selection, sometimes quite low in cost, sometime premium.

Posted by: Brian Hayes on 20 Jun 06

This process looks interesting. It is actually quite reminiscent of many business plans during the Internet boom, where buyers and sellers were supposed to engage directly in some kind of auction, and all the mediator did was take 2%. Some worked better than others-- eBay being the major success. Most folded or were non-starters because they tried to tackle huge markets with thousands of buyers/sellers (VCs wouldn't fund something really small-scale).

But small makes sense. How else is direct communication really practical, and really likely to result in supply-chain savings?

It's about time this business model found a home. The Internet IS really useful as a disintermediator-- we just had to find the right scale. Local!

Posted by: Kim on 20 Jun 06

I can see how this would be useful for some people, but give me the rich sensory experience of a farmers' market any day!

Posted by: Jane Shevtsov on 20 Jun 06

This could be an excellent tool for forming buyer's coops with direct links to sellers. If there is something similar to eBay's "Rate This Seller" feature, it would also allow farmers to add the value of their reputations to their products, elevating them above mere commodities.

Posted by: David Foley on 21 Jun 06

While I do agree that farmer's markets (and CSAs!) are a great way to support local farmers, this could be a good way to lure a whole different group of people into eating locally. Not to mention, in many areas the farmer's market operates only for a few hours one day a week. If you have to work or otherwise miss your chance, you're out of luck until next week!

One thing that farmer's markets definitely have over this kind of service is the transport. At the farmer's market hundreds of people buy from dozens of farmers in one trip. The article says that buyers and sellers will be responsible for working out a delivery system, but it is certain that the system won't be as fuel efficient as the market is.

Posted by: Heidi on 21 Jun 06

Another way around the hassle of selling to the big chains was worked out in northern California's redwood country, where people are pros at finding a way to get around unnecessary rules.

A local coffee roaster went through the hassle of becoming an official "vendor" for the town's branch of a chain supermarket. On paper, the supermarket purchased your apples or carrots from the coffee roaster; you took your stamped invoice across the street and got the roaster to pay you, minus a small handling fee. Roaster and market settled up at the end of the month.

Posted by: Seth Zuckerman on 21 Jun 06

Maybe this would be useful as a way to dispose of produce over and above what is available through a CSa, farmer's market, etc. I am already in direct contact with my local farmer every week, so I cannot see any personal benefit to this system. Frankly, I don't want to spend my time doing the ebay thing to buy my food. Sounds time consuming and doesn't build long term relationships between farmer and consumer.

Posted by: t on 21 Jun 06



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