Virtual Farmers Markets - The Future

| 10/2/2011 1:40:06 PM

A Farmers Market of Another Kind:  The Virtual Kind! 

Americans are flocking to farmers markets for locally grown food because of the concern for and awareness of the origin of our food, as well as the concern for chemicals in our food chain.  And the next evolution of the local farmers market is the VIRTUAL FARMERS MARKET. It gives the buyer the ultimate convenience of ordering from home.  While the buyer might think that it would limit the choices, the opposite is actually true.  The ability to shop different farms and producers from home and see what is actually in season within a 50 mile radius of your home ensures that you are eating fruits and vegetables grown right in your community.  Within those growers, you can choose the level of chemicals you are comfortable having in your foods, from certified organic to modern conventional levels for pest and weed control.

Over the past 60 years, Americans have embraced the post-World War II boom of advancements which led to conveniences like big box grocery stores, inventions like chemical sprayers and new irrigation systems, and chemicals that are too numerous to list, along with all their side effects.  But now they are showing a desire and willingness to move back to pre-World-War II growing practices that assure that the food they are eating and feeding their families is as chemical-free as possible.

While farmers markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) are an excellent source for local goods, the virtual farmers market has become an even more convenient and easy buying and selling option for both farmers and their customers.  As a customer, you don’t have to be at the farmers market first thing in the morning to get the best produce.  You don’t have to brave the hot summer sun to browse the foods that you want for the coming week. Unlike with CSA’s, which give you whatever produce has been grown for the week, the buyer is fully in charge of the food they will be receiving.  For the farmers, there will be no more midnight picking the night before the market to ensure having enough product, because with this virtual farmers market program, since everything is pre-ordered, you know exactly how much to harvest.  One farmer sang the praises of his local virtual farmers market:  he picks, washes and dries, packs and labels all at once according to the printout that is sent to him, so that when he comes in from the field, he is ready to load and deliver to the market.

How does it work, exactly?  Farmers list their items in the virtual market, even being able to say how many of an item he has on hand.  The market manager opens the market on Sunday by sending out an e-mail to the clients, and buyers can purchase goods from Sunday through Tuesday, at which time the market ‘closes.’  On Tuesday night the market manager sends an e-mail to the farmers, showing the number goods that have been sold, listed by item and quantity, with the purchasers name listed.  The grower can then print labels to attach to the package of goods.  The goods are delivered to the market at an appointed delivery time.  And the buyers come and pick up their items!

Getting to know the farmers that actually produce the food can be one benefit of physical farmers markets.  Virtual markets offer that also:  a customer can order directly from a specific farmer that they prefer.  The virtual farmers markets can weed out peddlers that sometimes infiltrate the physical farmers markets and push the boundaries of the rules of farmers markets just as well as physical farmers markets, which was a concern for some customers.  Since sellers cannot list their products without the market manager’s approval, there is still total control.

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