- Fruits: apples, berries (blueberries), berries (cranberries), berries (strawberries), melons
- Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
- Additional Plants: herbs
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, workshop
- Energy: energy use
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, e-commerce, feasibility study, market study
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, sustainability measures
Our proposal seeks to support agriculture and rural development by addressing three issues: • Limited access to consumer markets; • Connecting consumers with information on local products; • Limited capability of small farmers to use technology in marketing. The Western Mountains Alliance serves dozens of small communities in Maine’s western counties, an area comprising nearly half the state’s geography and only 12% of its population. At one time, farming played a much greater role in the economy of this region. Over the past two years, the Western Mountains Alliance has worked to reenergize the sector and particularly small farms through partnerships with farmers, school food service personnel, healthcare professionals and restaurants to promote local food to consumers and to provide workshops for farmers. Our successful Eat Smart Eat Local logo has been adopted by communities, farmers markets, and school programs throughout the region, and our local food directories for two of the counties we serve feature information on 150 farmstands, markets and local producers. One of the challenges we continue to face, however, is the ability to attract customers to rural farmers markets and to connect small producers with consumers. In addition, many of our farmers are middle-aged, of moderate income, employed in multiple jobs and have not had the opportunity to develop skills that could enable them to take advantage of technology to market their goods, such as weekly produce e-lists for consumers and online sales options. In two focus groups convened by WMA in 2006, consumers, farmers, and school food service staff expressed the need for an online site where information on available produce would be up to date and easily accessible. Consumers today are much more sophisticated in their food preferences and purchasing. They have a vast amount of information presented to them about food products and multiple outlets to get their food. These outlets range from the local farm stand to the large superstore. They also include restaurants and fast food eating places that provide meal solutions as the amount of time to prepare meals at home diminishes. With the advent of the Internet and the ability of mainstream media to almost instantaneously communicate information, consumers are well aware of the choices they have in the food market and how best to get the value-added products they want when they want them. For farmers to keep up with these trends and meet the food consumer on their terms, they must adopt information technologies as envisioned in this proposal.
Project objectives from proposal:
GetFresh.Net builds on the experiences of the “Plymouth Local Foods” pilot developed in New Hampshire in 2006 to link small producers with consumers via a virtual farmers market. The Plymouth Local Foods model evolves around a web site where consumers can purchase local foods online.
While many small farms now host their own web sites, our project involves working with several farmers to create a site to market a wider variety of local foods and value-added products. In the first year, the web site will promote fresh produce to consumers in a 30-mile radius of two communities (Skowhegan, approx. pop. 10,100 and Farmington, approx. pop. 7,504). The site will be well advertised through posters, news releases and paid advertising. Weekly email produce lists will also be distributed via email to over 1000 individuals in the Western Mountains Alliance database and through the elists of numerous partner organizations.
Farmers who participate in the project will receive training on developing weekly email ready produce lists, setting up consumer group lists, and in accepting and processing online payments. The computer training workshop will be offered in conjunction with a half-day workshop on how to market and sell products on-line. Other workshops on business planning, financing a business expansion, and value-added business opportunities will be offered as well.
The project will address the issues identified in question # 1 by:
• Connecting farmers to new consumers;
• Increasing consumer traffic to two farmers markets;
• Marketing the web site, farmers markets that serve as distribution sites, and local foods in general;
• Providing hands-on training to assist farmers in marketing online through the web site and independently.
In the late 1990s, the Western Mountains Alliance in partnership with a USDA Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Area office held a series of community meetings with the intent of working with local farmers to create a cooperative online marketing entity. The project was unsuccessful in part because of a relative lack of awareness in rural communities about internet business models and resistance to cooperative marketing. Since then the climate has changed.
Over the last several years, the efforts of numerous organizations working across sector boundaries of agriculture, nutrition, environment and economic development have produced a renewed local interest in local foods and a better understanding of how technology can help small local farmers connect with new consumers. We anticipate that the proposed project – GetFresh.Net — will assist at least 20 farmers in the region in accessing new markets and realizing an average increase in seasonal summer sales of at least 15% in the first year. At least 10 farmers will improve their marketing skills by learning how to set up online consumer lists and distribute weekly produce information via the internet, and by learning how to set up an online payment service such as “Pay Pal” to process customer orders via the internet.