BOISE — Christina McAlpin has a plan for making it easier for wholesale buyers around the country to purchase food directly from local farmers.
Her online business is already paying off for several Boise-area farms but she admits a lot more work, and revenue, is needed to take the idea national.
“My ultimate vision is that restaurants and the neighborhood grocery store would order more food from local farmers,” says McAlpin, CEO of Direct Local Foods. “The idea is to increase orders for farmers.”
The Boise-based business has already resulted in increased sales for southwest Idaho farmers and ranchers and McAlpin said the company is expanding into San Francisco and New York.
DLF is different from other online local food sites in that it is designed to help farmers sell their products to wholesale buyers such as restaurants and grocery stores, not consumers, and the business doesn’t do the delivery, farmers do.
The website has 2,600 members, about half farmers and half buyers. The goal is to have 30,000 farm members across the country and 30,000 buyer members.
DLF has 50 farmer members and 50 buyer members in Boise, which has been the test market. So far, so good, for the farmers at least.
“We’ve gotten a number of orders through Direct Local Foods,” said Jim Birdsall, marketing director for M&N Beef of Bliss. “I think it’s a good idea.”
Matt Williams, co-owner of Waterwheel Gardens in Emmett, said the site has already benefited his farm, which produces berries, fruit trees and vegetables.
“It’s almost as if we hire them as marketing people for us,” he said. “It’s already put us in touch with a few restaurants that consistently buy directly from us.”
Jered Couch, owner and chef of The Dish restaurant in Boise, said he orders directly from a lot of growers on the website, including M&N, and he said it’s the best online tool he’s seen for facilitating local food sales.
“There is no other system as good as this one is to contact farmers directly,” he said. “There is no better way to do that.”
After farmers sign up for an account, they list their products and let buyers know what days they can deliver. When a buyer purchases a product, the system sends the farmers an email letting them know they have an order and updates the grower’s inventory in real-time.
McAlpin said she has put a lot of money into the site to ensure it has the latest software upgrades but the struggle for the business is to find a way to start generating more revenue so it can expand into other markets.
The site doesn’t charge any commission based on sales and only recently started charging members a $28 fee to sign up.
Birdsall said the site could be a big benefit to a lot of farmers if it’s successful.
“She has a long-term game plan for this and it’s a real good idea,” he said.
Occupation: CEO Direct Local Food
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, Colby College; master’s degree in public policy, University of Colorado
Family: Husband, Hans-Peter Marshall; daughter, Sofia, 3