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A virtual farmers' market

(article, Jen Smith)

In the winter of 2009, five friends in the rural community of Charlotte, Vermont, tackled a persistent issue. Despite a bounty of small farms and producers nearby, locavores shopped at the farmers’ market in a neighboring community. “We felt that no one should have to leave Charlotte to buy a dozen eggs,” says Joe Messingschlager, a longtime resident and one of the five.

The USDA estimates that, in 2008, local food made up just 1.6 percent of the U.S. market for agricultural products. The five friends wanted to increase that number while providing an additional outlet for local farmers and artisans. Their solution was, a virtual farmers’ market inaugurated in July 2010. “This is great for someone whose lifestyle doesn’t fit into the farmers’-market scenario,” says Messingschlager. “Customers can log in and buy food while sitting at work. They can shop from a smartphone.”
Producers update their offerings each week, adding a crop of just-harvested baby beets or heirloom apples. Consumers place orders for pickup, paying with PayPal or credit cards.  The farmers and artisans bag the purchases and drop them off at set locations, where customers collect their food throughout the day. Messingschlager says that the site’s convenience is a big draw for busy farmers as well, and estimates that “a producer can do everything they need to in 20 minutes a week."

The first “market” featured four vendors selling vegetables, meat, and eggs. This winter, the Charlotte shopping list included duck and pullet eggs, a dozen cuts of certified organic lamb, braids of sweet red onions, and jugs of golden maple syrup. And they're not alone; the site has spread to several other locations in Vermont and even to Davis, California.