Little Egypt Alliance of Farmers Creates On-line Farmers Market

May 25, 2017

Every year online shopping becomes more popular.

A lot of stores are also offering the ability for customers to buy online and pick up in the store.

Now local farmers are trying it out.

Local farmers have been harvesting early in the week and selling their produce at weekend farmers markets for years.

This year some of those local farmers are trying something new.

They’re going online.

“There’s a lot of great benefits to it.”

Little Egypt Alliance of Farmers or LEAF was formed in 2016 by a group of local farmers to support small farms and make ordering food easier.

They decided the best way to do this is was to create a Community Supported Agriculture model or CSA.

The way a traditional CSA works is customers buy a share of the farm before the season and receive a portion of the harvest on a regular basis throughout the growing season.

What’s different about the one LEAF created is it’s all online.

“It’s convenient, we will deliver it to the same place every week, it’s easy because it’s just like shopping for anything else online.”

LEAF operations manager Liz DeRuntz says the unique thing about this online CSA is you get to buy from multiple farms at the same time.

“It shows you a picture of what you’re buying, it gives you the option to buy it in different incremental sizes, some are by bunch other by pound and it goes into your cart and you just check out and it deducts it from your account.”

Since it is a CSA customers pay LEAF upfront to create an account and as they buy from the farmers that amount is subtracted from their balance and paid to individual farmers.

Ed and Pam Hickam own Shade Tree Farm in Carbondale, they’re also founding members of Leaf.

They started the farm about 8 years ago as a retirement business.

They grow year round in a high tunnel and outdoors.

They offer a little bit of everything from watermelons, tomatoes, strawberries, and a wide variety of vegetables.

“Began selling at the roadside stand and that was kind of the springboard that we used to get into other platforms.”

With the online CSA customers have more choices than before.

“The standard CSA of getting a box a week from a particular farmer limits your choice as to what that farmers growing, this way we have 9 times that so I think that venue is going to be really important going forward."

Every week from Monday morning to Tuesday evening customers can log onto their LEAF food hub account and see what the farmers have to offer that week.

There’s a reason why the order window is for two days.

“The short widow is that the farmers actually have to have time to go out and pick the product.”

That gives the farmers all day Wednesday and Thursday morning to fill their orders so the produce is delivered Thursday afternoon and the customers receive the freshest products they have.

“We’ll be harvesting fennel tomorrow morning we want it to be as fresh as we can.”

When Hickam receives his online orders he’s able to plan out his harvest for the week more efficiently.

“There’s a time savings element to it you’re not wasting time harvesting product you’re not going to sell.”

Every Thursday the farmers gather at Shade Tree Farm to assemble the orders.

Each farmer takes their turn.

Someone calls out what products are needed for each box.

Then one by one each box gets filled with produce from all of the farmers.

“Our packing day I think is going very well, we’ve shaved time off each time that we’ve done it and as time goes on I think it going to be hopefully a well-oiled machine.”

Another added feature of this CSA model is that customers choose how often they want to order.

“We are not requiring people to get a box every week, if you go on vacation there’s no penalties for not buying something each week, you really get to select what you want when you want it.”

Plus like everything else on line, it’s always open.

“It also reliable, traditionally farmers market if you get rain or thunderstorm they will cancel farmers market but our market will be open every week.”

LEAF is also adding new customers every week.

They started with 32 paid members when the website went live May 1st, now they’re up to 60 members and adding more every week.

“We have gotten a good response in our initial year and I think we’re seeing the momentum grow each week we’re getting new members joining, hopefully the word will spread and next year will be much better than this year.”

But one of the most important things to LEAF and the farmers is connecting the community.

“You really get to know your farmer, you will have a relationship with the food and where it comes from, as the season progresses we will be having mixers with the farmers so if you want to come out and actually meet the people who are producing your food you can.”

For a retiree like Hickam who started farming for an additional income, this program opened up new possibilities he never thought about.

“Well obviously I’m not the youngest person and as time goes on you know you have to adapt to what the venues of the day are and no ten years ago I’d never given any thought to selling product online, now I think about it a lot.”