Startup Profile: FarmieMarket Uses Web to Sustain Real Food Economy for Future Generations
September 30, 2011 | Kelly Hatton
In New York’s Albany region, FarmieMarket customers are filling virtual shopping baskets with locally grown goods. The online market offers a variety of in season products, from heirloom tomatoes to certified organic pork, to honey and maple syrup, and delivers them to homes once weekly. It’s a model that founder Sarah Avery Gordon hopes will rid consumers of the excuse that shopping locally is too hard.
“If we’re going to sustain the real food economy for future generations, then we need systems in place to provide local food,” said Gordon. “If we can inform customers about the benefits of eating locally, and bring food to their door, we can really provide an alternative to factory farms.”
After completing an M.S. in Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, Gordon was determined to bring home the “small farmer is king” attitude she encountered in Burlington. Upon her return to Gordon Farms, her family’s farm in New York, she took up the task of finding a new method to market the farm’s grass fed beef.
“My goal was to develop a way that small farmers could market in a cost effective way. I started using social media and the farm website to market products and it really took off. Our sales went up exponentially.”
In 2010, Gordon reached out to neighboring farms to launch the FarmieMarket platform.
Raised in a farming community, Gordon understands the challenges of marketing for the small farmer. Her service not only provides a convenient place for customers to shop for a variety of local products, it also allows small farms to sell their products without being away from the farm.
Randall Grippin, of Mountain Winds Farm, has been selling on FarmieMarket since it’s beginning, and it’s paid off. The site has been a steady source of weekly income for Grippin, who before FarmieMarket sold his products–broiler chickens, free range eggs and maple syrup–off the farm.
“We’ve reached customers we never would have otherwise,” Grippin said.
Gordon is committed to fair pricing for her farmers. Though she’s willing to offer market research and pricing info to FarmieMarket sellers, she lets farmers set their own prices.
“A lot of people want to bicker over prices, but the fact of the matter is that a farmer who works fifty to eighty hours a week shouldn’t have to live in poverty, and they know what the food they raise is worth. We have to educate consumers on the realities of quality and small-scale food production, including pricing.”
To sell with FarmieMarket, farmers pay an initial fee of $100, and Gordon takes a small commission from items sold. For farmers, it’s cheaper and less time consuming than most Farmers Markets. For Gordon, the model has proved profitable, though it’s not a “get rich quick scheme,” the site’s initial success and growth has provided enough for her to support herself.
FarmieMarket currently hosts three online farmers markets: Heldeberg Market, Uncle Sam’s Farmer Stand and Turning Point Market. Each online market serves a different region of Central New York, and while Gordon is still behind all orders and deliveries, she organized the individual farms on her site into three distinct market by county to impress upon consumers the importance of local foodsheds.
“I wanted each market to have it’s own local flavor,” explained Gordon, “but to still be connected by the FarmieMarket brand.”
As the service grows, the brand will continue to stand for sustainable food produced on small farms. All products sold on FarmieMarket are hormone, antibiotic, pesticide and GMO-free. For Gordon, the biggest challenge for growth has been cultivating a customer base that understands the value of true-cost food.
“You have to work hard at sourcing good farms whose products you can really stand behind, raising awareness about the practices those farms use, and dreaming up creative marketing approaches to get the word out. Your legwork will pay off, and the result is an educated, appreciative, loyal and growing customer base.”
To grow the brand, Gordon plans to continue to add new, small markets to the FarmieMarket platform. This winter, she’ll launch an educational series for likeminded entrepreneurs who are interested in cultivating markets in their own region.
“If we can start planting seeds all over the country, hopefully we can start growing some fields,” she said.