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The farmers market’s virtual, but the tomatoes are real
Westernmainemarket.com puts a local farmers market online to expand market hours, reach, and, farmers hope, sales.
Putting a local farmers market online is expanding Westernmainemarket.com’s hours and reach, a strategy farmers participating in the market hope will pay off in more sales. Since launching in April, at least one famer’s total sales have increased by one-third over last year when online sales weren’t an option, according to the Western Mountains Alliance, a nonprofit group that operates the online marketplace.
The site is built on software originally developed on the Open Source platform by a partnership including the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative, the operators of D Acres Organic Farm and a group of volunteers, all located in New Hampshire. The result of that effort was an online farmers market called LocalFoodsPlymouth.org, which launched in 2006. A spin-off organization called Local Foods Anywhere now supports the development of other online farmers markets with information on how to get started.
On Westernmainemarket.com, customers order and pay online for pickup later in the week, says Tricia Cook, program administrator. Payment transactions are processed by PayPal. Customers can buy Friday through Monday; the purchasing option is turned off Tuesday through Thursday. The 28 farmers participating get orders from the site Monday night, harvest to fill them, and deliver orders for customers to pick up later that week at one of two locations, including a local hospital.
By Thursday, the farmers are back in touch with Cook to let her know what they will have available for sale starting the coming weekend. Cook updates the web site with that information before the site goes live for purchasing again on Friday.
To drive local shoppers to the site, Westernmainemarket.com’s site operator, Western Mountain Alliance, promotes the market to its 700-member e-mail list. A partnership with the local hospital’s wellness program provides another 900 e-mail addresses.
Cook says that while a one-year startup grant obtained by the Western Mountains Alliance supports much of the administration of Westernmainemarket.com, farmers contribute 15% of each online sale to cover ongoing expenses, such as hosting the site.
Cook notes that as word has spread, the site’s weekly sales in August started hitting levels sufficient to keep the program running after the grant expires. The Western Mountain Alliance also will investigate other e-commerce platforms over the winter for one that would give farmers the ability to enter their own data, which would further reduce administrative costs.
“We will produce a report at the end of the season on results,” she says. “I think we are going to see more of this kind of thing. There has been an explosion of interest.”