The New Farmer’s Market: Tech-enabled & People-Powered
Chances are, you live in a city. And perhaps you don’t think about farmers all that much. You might even find it strange that we here at Wanderlust are slightly obsessed with our favorite farmer, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Swoope, VA. Those of you who have seen Joel talk at our festivals, however, know that it’s easy to fall fast for this hilarious, intelligent and charismatic figure as he espouses solutions for the current quagmire of modern farming in America.
What exactly is the quagmire? Well, as Joel states in his Food, Inc appearance, “What we’ve done with modern industrial agriculture is to grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper. Nobody is thinking about e-coli, type 2 diabetes and the ecological health of the whole system. We’re outsourcing autonomous, farmer decisions to the corporate board rooms a thousand miles away [from the farm] where people don’t live with the consequences of those decisions.”
What makes the situation slightly more dire is that the average age of a farmer in the U.S. is now sixty years old, meaning that this generation of men and women who tend the fields will soon have to give way to a new, younger generation that has more affinity for a tablet than a tractor, and may not be as in touch with the nuances of the land. And thus Joel has penned a new book, Fields of Farmers, on training the next generation, complete with ways that this tech-savvy lot can use the technologies at hand to aid in their mission of bringing fresh and healthy food to the masses.
Joel has suggested that a new type of food delivery system must be created in order to keep the farmers where they belong (on the farm) and not in transit to (or at) farmer’s markets. It may surprise you to hear a farmer decry the efficacy of the traditional farmer’s market, but his chapter on Food Clusters outlines the reasons why it’s simply not a good use of a farmer’s resources, including the fact that farmers have to leave the farms to man their booths, the market rules and commissions cut into their take, and the fact that a visit to browse the farmer’s market is often more social than a conscious haul for the week’s supplies. His benchmark is that if a farmer can’t clear $2000 on a typical day at the market, it’s not worth their time or resources. He echoed these sentiments in an online Q&A he conducted with our Wanderlust community online, below.
To this end, Joel has described a new “virtual” farmer’s market model, and we were thrilled to discover that a few of these innovative programs are now up and running in select markets in the US. Door to Door Organics is a Colorado-based operation and now serving in 7 states. Relay Foods, out of Charlottesville, allows you to shop online or on your mobile device.
Here in Brooklyn, Farmigo recently launched, and is focused on a Long Island and San Francisco rollout. What makes these “new” models of food distribution different? Think of it as somewhere between a CSA and Fresh Direct — meaning that you’re purchasing what’s in season from local farms, but you get to choose what goes in your basket, and that basket is delivered to your community pickup place. One part of that sentence bears repeating — you get to choose your own vegetables! (Anyone who has received a pile of onions and one squash-like vegetable for $45 dollars a week in their traditional CSA is now permitted to give a loud and hearty hallelujah).
We asked Benzi Ronen, Farmigo CEO, about some of the philosophy behind his approach. “Farmigo began by marrying the strengths of technology and farming to help farmers. The introduction of Farmigo software allowed farms to streamline their deliveries through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs; creating more profitable opportunities for the farmer, too. Farmigo envisioned a community oriented food system in which people and farmers in the same geographic area are connected, and everyone has access to fresh from harvest food. It should not be a luxury to have access to healthy, farm-fresh food.“
What makes Farmigo unique is that it incorporates the position of a Farmigo Champion, who is an independent entrepreneur who is dedicated to manage and nurture their food community and the weekly Farmigo food pick ups. Farmigo Champions earn ten percent of their food community’s weekly food orders, and many of the Farmigo Champions work to fundraise for their children’s schools.
We asked Benzi about the common “local vs. organic” issue when it comes to choosing your staples, and he suggests that, “The question of local vs organic is a non-starter. Local farmers and growers who care deeply about what they are raising will invariably grow organic food. They simply care too much about health and taste to amend the soil or their precious harvest with anything that would compromise the quality of the food and their reputation. The farmers know they need to nurture the soil for generations to come and focus on the long-term connection to nature and their customers. Their world depends on it. In a sense, Local is organic; intrinsically linked. “
Farmigo’s People Powered farmers markets have just launched in New York, San Francisco’s Bay area, Long Island and North Jersey, along with Farmigo food communities in Brooklyn and North Jersey. They say the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive, particularly among health, wellness and yoga enthusiasts, because (in their words) they have found that their best customers are “mothers on a mission” - families with children at home. To become a Farmigo member or a Long Island Farmigo Champion, contact Jessica Malcolm, Jessica@farmigo.com or Ludovica Ferme, Ludovica@farmigo.com.
Are there online options operating in your area? We want to hear about them! Let us know in the comments below about your farmer’s market experiences, either online or off.