Online farmer’s market a big hit in southeastern Wyoming
Customers in southeastern Wyoming have access to home grown meat, fresh produce and other items with just a few clicks of a button thanks to a pilot program started by the Wyoming Business Council, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension.
Triple Crown Commodities Cooperative is an online farmer’s market that serves producers and customers in Laramie, Albany, Goshen and Platte counties. “We also have some western Nebraska producers,” according to Kim Porter, farmer’s market and education program manager for the Wyoming Business Council.
The site offers everything for sale from beef, lamb, goat meat, and chicken to different grains, beans, produce, berries, goat cheese, and eggs. Consumers can also purchase various baked goods, body soaps and cremes, worms for fishing, clothing, jewelry, wooden boxes and furniture. All the products are made in Wyoming or western Nebraska by home-based or small business owners, farmers and ranchers.
The program is unique to Wyoming, since it is the first time it has been done there. “Some other states have this type of program,” Porter said. “It just gives people greater access to more products, and it gives producers more access to more customers. In our state, it is a new concept that I think complements the local farmer’s markets very well. I don’t feel like it really competes with them. It is just a unique idea that gives everyone an opportunity to participate,” she said.
The program works by producers placing the products online they want to sell. “We have an order cycle from the first day of the month through the second Saturday. Deliveries are following Thursday. There is no minimum. Producers can list as many items as they wish, and customers can order what they want,” she explained. “What is nice about the program is all of their items are delivered at once. It is nice for consumers because they can order from different producers, and pick everything up at the same time and pay with one check. Producers can deliver everything at one time and get one check a week later,” she explained.
There is a designated spot in each county for pickup. Pickup points are the Goshen County Extension office in Torrington, Big Hollow Food Coop in Laramie, Wyoming Business Council in Cheyenne, and the Wheatland Book Nook in Wheatland.
Up to this point, Porter said there have been no fees associated with participating in the program since it is a pilot program. However, that may change this fall as the program is changed into a cooperative and moves into the private sector.
Representatives from the Wyoming Business Council, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension started the project in 2009 by selecting a board of directors, and conducting surveys to see what people would like. They visited High Plains Cooperative in Denver on their delivery day to watch how they got their product out.
In 2010, the group started installing software and did their first dry run in October. “We picked producers and consumers that would be patient with us, and would help us get everything working,” Porter said. “In November, we did a wet run, and in December, we took our first orders,” she said. They had 10 orders their first time totalling $147.
Since then, the average sales are over $1,100, and growing every month. “Some months, sales are over $1,700. We continue to recruit producers,” she said. “We are always looking for more producers to join, but we are trying to build this up slowly.”
Porter said they have also had interest from other areas of state that would also like to participate in the program. “We are excited about that because one of goals of this project was to explore the feasibility of a state-wide farmers market,” she said.
A wide array of customers are shopping the online farmer’s market for local foods that they feel taste better, Porter said. “Customers like having the opportunity to purchase local foods year-round. They also like supporting their economy and the local farmers,” she added.
“For producers, the online farmer’s market gives them another market opportunity,” Porter continued. “It is one more place to sell their products. For consumers, it is one more place to buy local products, and it gives them a bigger geographical area to order from. There are currently four counties and Nebraska that they can order from. They can also purchase fresh, local foods year-around,” she said.
Mostly producers and consumers have found out about the program by word-of-mouth, Porter continued. “We started out with producers we knew,” she explained. “They tell other producers. We have been to a couple of food-type conferences, and recruited some producers from there. In the beginning, we had a Wisconsin cheese vendor because we didn’t have a local cheese vendor. Now, we have a standards committee that will be forming the rules for the cooperative, and I expect the regulations for who can participate in the future will be a little more stringent,” she said. “So long as they can get their product to one of the four drop off sites, we are happy to have them,” she added.
“It also gives consumers access to products they may not have had access to before,” Porter said. “It runs year-around, so during the winter, it gives people an opportunity to get fresh eggs, meat and other products they may not have known how to find before,” she said. “It is just like a farmer’s market consumers shop at in town. We have a large selection, and a variety of items. The difference is when you go to the local farmer’s market, you can pick the product up and smell it, and online it is a picture and description.”
The online concept has proven a challenge for producers who have to write a description of their farming and ranching operation and the practices they use to grow their food since they never meet their consumers or visit with them one-on-one. “I always encourage them to take their time and do a good job describing what they do because it is how our consumers get to know them and the product they produce,” Porter explained.