Seattle Farmer Creates Web-based Direct Sales Marketplace for Organic Produce
July 29, 2014 | AJ Hughes
Seattle-based farmer, chef and blogger Janelle Maiocco founded Farmstr in September 2013 as an online marketplace centered on sustainability. Through its web site, customers can purchase food and produce directly from sustainable farmers, ranchers and fishers. The young startup announced a $1.3 million capital raise in May, 2014.
Through Farmstr, customers benefit because they can buy high-quality, locally-produced food for (often) less than its retail price. And producers benefit, as local farmers who largely operate on a small scale are able to sell their offerings in a timely manner.
Maiocco, a Seattle resident, has roots in dairy farming, and agriculture played a significant role in her growing-up years. A self-professed foodie, she is a trained chef and writes extensively about food and agriculture on her blog, “Talk of Tomatoes.”
While Maiocco loves agriculture and grows nostalgic at the sight and smell of cow manure, she is concerned about the current state of big agriculture. She feels that eaters want and need food that is free from pesticides and antibiotics and is not genetically-modified.
“They don’t want chemicals for dinner,” she says.
Lack of broad access to quality food was the main reason Maiocco founded Farmstr.
“I found it difficult to access local foods at farmers’ markets,” she says. “Local farmers needed a direct way to sell.”
She addressed this problem by implementing existing technology to solve an age-old problem. “Because of supply and demand, a simple solution and mechanism was needed,” Maiocco says. “Technology has come so far. Now is the right timing, and we have the right technology.”
Farmers who wish to sell through Farmstr must utilize organic growing practices. After a rigorous vetting of their farming methods, those who meet this standard may set up a seller profile and post items they want to sell. It is free to sign up, and Farmstr keeps 6.5 percent of each transaction.
Farmstr makes numerous drop sites available where producers can leave food for customers to pick up. Currently, all drop sites are located in Washington State, and include three in Seattle and one each in Bellingham, Everett, Issaquah, Redmond and Tacoma.
Maiocco says that Farmstr will probably expand outside the Pacific Northwest, but declined to provide further details at this time.
Farmstr offers a wide variety of food. At the time of writing, featured foods on sale included spring green onion and rainbow chard from Seattle Tilth Produce, Organic No. 1 Lapin cherries from Apple Cart Fruits, certified organic apricots and peaches from OK Farmers Co-op, sweet pea shoots and organic wheatgrass from Indianola Organics, organic blueberries and blackberries from Hayton Farms, grass-fed lamb and beef roasts from Lefever Holbrook Ranch and more.
“I’m passionate about connecting local produce and consumers,” Maiocco says. “I’m passionate about making good food accessible.”
She’s also happy to have helped open up a marketplace for small farmers. “The little guys, urban farmers, hobby farmers―they need customers,” she says.
Farmstr is only 10 months old, and Maicco relied on the support of her family and did not take a salary for two months so her fledgling company could get off the ground. But the strong response from both buyers and sellers proved to her that Farmstr has a viable future. Now, the company employs four full-time workers (and is looking for two more), and two interns. It’s not profitable yet, but “we’re getting there,” she says.
Like any new business, Farmstr has encountered obstacles along the way. Maiocco says that securing startup funds was the main hurdle, and that now, its employees are underpaid but very “passionate about this.”
As its inaugural year draws to a close and a second year dawns, Maiocco is excited about her company’s future.
“It’s going really good,” she says. “All the lights are green.”