By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern
As technology revolutionizes travel, products, games, and people, food producers should be looking to identify its role in food access. In what ways can technology facilitate the relationship between farmers and consumers?
During the most recent Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry hearing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), representatives from both Amazon and Thrive Market testified that they are willing and able to accept SNAP benefits, a market share worth more than $66 billion annually. These companies and others like them can potentially deliver fresh-farm products to the door of consumers who might otherwise not have access to these goods, due to the limitations of either their location or transportation.
There are several government databases helping consumers to find local or regional food. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides searchable directories for farmers markets, CSAs, Food Hubs, and On-Farm Markets across the county. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) offers an online directory with a state-by-state breakdown.
Private companies extend similar services as well. LocalHarvest has built a national directory which lists over 30,000 family farms and farmers markets along with restaurants and grocery stores that feature local food. Each member creates and maintains their own listing.
With technology, the possibilities are seemingly limitless. Farmers just need to figure out how marketing technologies can best be used to improve access to customers and new markets.
What do you see as the pros and cons to food delivery services? Have you had success marketing products through farm directories? How can farmers work with technology services like these to grow their markets?
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I operate an online directory for Northern Colorado, The Pig and the Plow. One thing we do differently is continually update the farm profiles, which keeps the information current. We seek out all the local producers and farmers that sell direct to the public, which we have found offers the largest and best source of information. We are also well versed in what the community has to offer and develop relations ships with the producers to assist our members. Our members pay $25 a year for access, farmers pay nothing for their profile, but do pay for additional support. We provide individual assistance in locating local food and assist customers through education about the buying process (CSA’s, cut sheets, etc) allowing the farmer more time and bandwidth to grow food and their business.
We also host CSA fairs, and are looking into an educational collective and a small rancher cooperative where members can buy meat from vetted producers. We will streamline that buying process while remaining compliant with regulations.
I think food delivery works for a certain segment, but I believe mobile food stores or neighborhood fresh food bodegas or co-ops will reach a larger audience. Personally I like to see my fresh food and pick it out. If I go to a farm stand it was likely picked In The last 24 hours. Delivery typically, not always, means it’s older.
I wonder if the national directories, USDA and ATTRA, you mention above are useful to the $66 billion market segment that uses SNAP. It seems to me that sites like this do not receive the local traffic, nor are they specific enough at the local level for people trying to find local food. For example, the USDA site might not take into account location or hour changes of Farmer’s markets due to local events, etc., where local facebook pages might. In that case I would imagine that local directories and marketing are more consumer friendly. This is only speculation, but I would be interested to find out more!