Farmers markets find fertile selling ground online
Small-batchfood producers across the region, detached from their traditional point-of-sale due to Covid-19, are finding a new and fertile selling ground online.
While the technology is nothing new in today's fast-paced, e-commerce society, the approach is a novel one for many who are generally more comfortable among ridges and compost than computers and cyberspace.
'The Local Green Box Cavan' is the brainchild of an enterprising group of local growers and food producers closely associated with the producer group GIY West, and The Cottage Market, which sprouted from that.
They banded together to collectively market and sell homegrown produce, which is now available to collect weekly from established pick-up points at Cavan County Local Development offices at the Corlurgan Business Park in Cavan Town, or the courtyard at Lizzy Buggies in Ballyconnell.
The group began by working with a team of web-developers who set-up a simple online platform called clickandcollection.com in response to the pandemic.
In effect it's Farmers Market 2.0 - the virtual birthplace from where traditional country markets could soon evolve into burgeoning tech savvy businesses.
“It's a huge new route to market for some of our producers - veg, herbs, salads and artisan food all produced at a local level and grown naturally,” reflects GIY West founding member Imelda Mullen. “It's the market but without the social end of things. It's a reaction to us not being able to meet with our customers at the current time.”
There are around 10 individual producers currently feeding into the Green Box initiative.
Operating from such a local base means the Green Box can adapt quickly to consumer demands too.
A problem accessing eggs was quickly solved by one member reaching out to a farmer in Kildallon, who then set about “adding that to his enterprise,” explains Imelda.
How does it work?
The growers photograph their produce, and post how much is available on a Monday morning. The buying process stays open until midnight the following day (Tuesday).
Producers then have two more days to get the respective orders ready before the scheduled Friday collection times. The system is both contactless and cashless to meet social-distancing demands.
By their second week of operation, The Local Green Box Cavan was receiving upwards of 90 orders.
Knowing how much and of what is to be sold, instead of simply rocking up and hoping for the best at any given market, is having the added bonus of cutting down on unnecessary food waste.
“Before we might've gone to market with 20 or 40 bags of salad and, on a bad day, only sold 10. That not knowing always bothered me,” says Imelda, who acknowledges there is an implied trust between the seller and buyer that the best produce is being sold without being seen. It means more than ever that growers are only as good as their last carrot or cake, or even carrot cake sold.
“It's all about living up to expectations. From the farmers markets we'd get to know our customers well, so trust was there. Online, with new customers coming, you really need to be conscious of how important reputationally the impact what you're doing and what you're selling can have.”
Taking a similar digital initiative, Ballinagh's Charlene Brady of 'Charlene's Wholesome Pantry', has teamed up with Belturbet-based organic wholefoods seller Felix Cropp of 'The Good Crop Company'. Together they're now hosting NeighbourFood Belturbet, an off-shoot of the online foodie network first established by Cork city by Jack Crotty and Martin Poucher back in 2018.
NeighbourFood as a brand operates both in Ireland and now the UK, and seeks to promote small scale producers and fairer food prices for all.
The way NeighbourFood works is that 80% of whatever is spent goes directly to the producer themselves. Already involved is a range of established producers and well-known local brand highly regarded for their work with the Cavan Food Network.
“The 'shop local' message has never been more important,” says Charlene of the present set of circumstances.
If anything she celebrates the grow-your-own ethos restrictions seem to have imbued in people.
“There are opportunities out there for everyone, even someone small starting out with a batch of jam for instance. This is an excellent platform, it's an excellent opportunity. It doesn't matter about the size of the producer, it's all about getting local food out to our customers.”
Felix's warehouse at Unit 12 in the Creeney Business Park provides the ideal base for NeighbourFood.
The online marketplace opens on Sunday and customers have until Thursday to place their order, with collection then outside every Saturday between 12-3pm.
“It's not always easy,” admits Felix who had been selling foods online under his Good Grop Co for some time. But the way people have embraced cottage-industry e-commerce since the restrictions came into place certainly now gives him new hope for the future.
“It's a win-win for everyone. The local producer sells locally, and the buyer buys local and helps support the local economy.
“You can feel things changing. What we're seeing here and now is people are becoming more comfortable about buying food online. People's shopping habits are changing, social distancing is a major factor in that. I don't know if we'll ever go back to the way markets were before. [Online selling] might not see as much face-to-face interaction, but it's a very clean straightforward process,” he says.