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10/23/2006

The LocallyGrown.net model

Filed under:General — eric @ 5:27 pm

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What are the characteristics of a LocallyGrown.net farmers’ market?

The produce is local to the market.

Every market may have a different idea of what that means. For our market in Athens, GA, nothing comes from further away than about 100 miles. The system won’t prevent you from selling something that traveled 1000 miles, but that goes against what I’m trying to accomplish here.

The growers set their own prices.

The system is meant to emulate many aspects of a traditional “booths and tables” farmers’ market. The customers are buying directly from the grower, at prices set by the grower. The grower describes what it available, supplies photos of the items, and sets the purchase price.

The customer has choices.

Just like at a traditional farmers’ market, the customer can browse everything that is available from all of the different growers. The customer can choose exactly what to buy, how much to buy, and from what grower to buy.

The customer has time to decide.

Unlike a traditional market that may be only open for a couple hours (with all the good stuff gone soon after opening), LocallyGrown.net markets are usually open for business for two days—long enough to fully browse the site and plan menus for the week.

Availability is flexible.

The growers estimate how much of each item that will be able to harvest a week ahead of time. This takes both skill and practice. Even so, unpredictable factors—such as whether or not it is sunny on a Wednesday morning—can make the difference between having a bumper crop or a very small harvest. So, the site will allow customers to keep on ordering an item even if sales have passed the estimated availability. The item might not be there when the order is put together, but then again, it just might be.

The produce is harvested to order.

After the ordering window has closed, the growers are notified of all of their orders for the week. They usually have a day or so to go out and harvest exactly what was ordered, package it, and deliver to the pick-up site. The produce is not coming off from a shelf somewhere, but is coming straight from the field to the customer. Of course, this doesn’t apply for some items. Garlic, for example, is often cured for a while before sale. Jams and other preserves may be made in batches. Honey is processed seasonally and then stored. Soap is made in batches. You get the idea, but most things will indeed be harvested to order.

Payment is taken when the orders are picked up.

Most markets will have a set time and location for customers to pick up their orders. Payment is not made in advance through the website but is instead made in person when the order is picked up. This is because adjusting the amount owed for an order will be a common occurrence. Maybe something ran short due to bad weather, or maybe there were extra items available on the table when the customer arrived, or maybe the grower decided to adjust the price down at the last minute to account for an imperfection. In any case, it is much easier to do this in person rather than going back and trying to issue credits and adjustments through the website.

One aspect to this, however, is that if a customer places an order but for whatever reason does not arrive to pick it up, the customer is still responsible for paying for that order. Since everything is harvested to order, the growers still had to work to put the order together, and should therefor still get paid for that effort.

That is what makes a LocallyGrown.net market.

There are other details on how the site works, but in a nutshell, that is what sets our markets apart from buying clubs, CSAs, and traditional farmers’ markets. Over five years in Athens, GA, the system evolved that included the best points from all of those while minimizing the downsides for the customers, the growers, and the community.

From The LocallyGrown.net Weblog, now making its first public appearance. Don’t Slashdot it yet though — it’s not quite ready for the masses.

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