Online farmer’s markets expands producers’ customer base | TheFencePost.com

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Online farmer’s markets expands producers’ customer base

When you think of a farmers' market, you probably imagine market stalls in a parking lot or park. One market is taking a different approach — conducting all of its transactions online. WyoFresh serves a large part of eastern Wyoming as well as parts of western Nebraska, connecting local producers with customers all over its delivery area.

Normally, both producers and customers pay a small co-op membership fee to use WyoFresh, but right now, the fees are temporarily suspended until Sept. 1 to encourage more people to give the online market a try.

Their website still charges for the membership, but the co-op is refunding all those charges. After the Sept. 1 cut-off, the membership fees are $5 to try out the market until you reach $100 in sales, $30 to just buy and sell for a year and $50 a year to buy and sell but also have voting rights in the co-op.

Originally started through a specialty crops grant in 2010, the market went by the name Triple Crown Commodities Co-op until last year. Scott Zimmerman, treasurer for WyoFresh, said they patterned this co-op after ones in Oklahoma and Nebraska.

“I think it’s a very good opportunity for consumers to experience locally grown products and get to know producers and build that relationship. They know they’re going to get a quality product the producer’s going to stand behind.”Scott Zimmerman Treasurer for WyoFresh

"What we liked is the opportunity for local producers to sell directly to the consumer and basically give those producers a direct market opportunity for their products," he said. "What appealed to us is that it gave the consumer the opportunity to order from a variety of producers and products at one time."

It works like this. Producers list all their products on the website, and consumers place orders there. Once a month, producers package up all their orders and take them to the nearest delivery point of the four available: Cheyenne, Laramie, Torrington or Wheatland, Wyo.

DISTRIBUTION

From there, the co-op moves them to a central distribution center in Wheatland, then packages them up for consumers and distributes them to the closest delivery point for the customer.

Painter Produce in Henry, Neb., has been part of the co-op since 2012, and owner Tracy Painter said WyoFresh helps her reach different customers throughout the year.

"I would say it's a way of reaching other markets, other customers that you normally wouldn't come across. We did the Laramie farmers' market last year, from June to September, and (through WyoFresh), from October through June, those same customers have an option of being able to order from us and have it delivered to Laramie. We can reach customers that are 140 miles away, and I only have to drive my product 10 miles."

Expanding the area where they can find customers is a key benefit for many of the producers.

"For us, it's very helpful to reach consumers in areas we don't typically get into. I deliver a lot to Cheyenne and Wheatland but not so much Laramie or Torrington, so it expands our customer base," said Cindy Goertz, a partner at Wyoming Pure Natural Beef. "The ease of use is pretty key, because you just take your products to one distribution point, and it can reach a variety of locations for a pretty minimal cost."

Producers pay the co-op 12 percent of their orders to cover handling and delivery charges. Delivery drivers taking the orders out to the pick-up sites are volunteers, and the co-op pays them each $50 to cover gas.

The offerings at the market do change seasonally, but unlike most standard farmers' markets, WyoFresh is open year-round. Because there are relatively few producers growing with greenhouses in the area, the fruit and vegetable offerings are not as numerous in the winter months.

OTHER PRODUCTS

Other products available include various types of meat, baked goods, snack foods, coffee and craft items.

"By and large the producers that are on site have been with us since the beginning. They've stuck with us," Zimmerman said. "I think it's a very good opportunity for consumers to experience locally grown products and get to know producers and build that relationship. They know they're going to get a quality product the producer's going to stand behind."

He estimated that the co-op has had between $600 and $1,000 in orders each month, but he's hoping they can double or even triple that amount.

Because it's a co-op, members get to be more involved in how it conducts business.

"You get a voice as to how it's handled, how much we charge for delivery. So when you join, you actually become part of it, and you get to basically help run the company," said Goertz, who is also vice chair of the co-op.

The technical aspect of using the website to list products can sometimes be challenging, Painter said, but so far, she thinks it's been worth it to give additional information to consumers.

"It's like communicating right with the growers and producers," she said. "You can read the little story of who (the producers) are and what they've done. You know the people that are growing your food for you." ❖