Would it be a good or a bad thing if produce had an indefinite shelf-life? What would happen to the definition of “fresh” – or, what would have to be done to get food items to last so long? These are questions more and more consumers are asking themselves, especially when it comes to buying food items from faraway sources, with very little assurance as to the quality of those food items or what’s been done to them to allow for them to make that trek.
Unlike store items such as pencils, wine glasses, or books, products from farms are typically perishable with extremely short shelf-lives. For the most part, these perishables can’t be shipped great distances, and seasonality doesn’t help matters either. Were you to be selling pencils, wine glasses, or books, you could use websites like Etsy, Ebay, or Amazon – but for farmers, these services are pretty much out of the question.
Many farmers and urban gardeners with surplus end up giving that away to family and friends, or try selling online: sites like Craigslist’s Farm and Garden section, Facebook pages, or they pay companies to market their produce (a method that has yielded mixed results).
It’s an odd food ecosystem where it’s easier to buy a bland tomato from Mexico, or organic garlic from china, which has no third party checking than it is to buy tasty, high quality produce from a farm just down the road, or even within the same state. Much of the produce from Mexico can be linked to slave labor, industrial mass productions, and standards that should be considered sub-par for Americans.
The demand for local, responsibly raised food is growing and is a result of many everyday people making a conscious decision not to buy produce from mystery sources – food that has been farmed in unknown conditions, using who knows what kinds of methods, food that, quite frankly, just isn’t that good, and is not necessarily all that good for you. It’s both a choice for health and financial well-being.
Many consumers are realizing that the only way to ensure they are getting the right food is to learn about the farm and the farmer – to take matters into their own hands. This is easier said than done, for the sheer number of individual farmers can be daunting. Companies like Whole Foods are expensive to shop in. And very few websites actually help consumers connect with their food sources. Local Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) do drop-offs, and farmers markets in the US have doubled in number to 8,200 in just the past 4 years. But we could do so much more.
The internet can be the key to marketing produce instantly, and directly connecting consumers with farmers. At ProduceRun, for instance, we allow farmers to bring their product directly to market without actually harvesting, thus virtually eliminating the cost and risk of spoilage. Consumers shop at this online marketplace, specify exactly how much of any item they want, and pay through our secure portal. They choose their delivery/pick-up option. The farmer harvests. The consumer gets awesome food. It’s as simple as that. The best part is, instead of making around 20% from a transaction, farmers get to keep 90%.
Another feature is the “Crowdfunded Produce Run”. It allows farmers to market a bulk amount of produce to end consumers. This is perfect for when there’s a large yield of something and the only other option is to sell at wholesale prices. Rather than selling in an auction house at rock-bottom prices, paying the auction fees, and basically losing one’s proverbial backside, farmers can put up a Crowdfunded Produce Run for, let’s say, a cow. They set the minimum order. Consumers opt in for however much they want, and once that minimum (or maximum) order is reached, a Produce Run is scheduled.
Between the incredible advances in technology and the emerging desire of consumers to buy high quality, local, responsibly raised food, there’s no reason we can’t find better answers to the current food system. If we can connect consumers with their food sources and vice versa, both parties win. Not just that, but the community itself benefits. It’s all about building a better life, and it all can start with food.