SPOKANE — An online farmers’ market expects to boost the number of customers with a new location in Spokane.
Shelly Stevens, owner and manager of Northwest Farm Fresh, said customers place orders online from Wednesday morning through Monday afternoon. Their order is ready for pickup Tuesday afternoon at one of three locations: Chewelah and Colville, Wash., or, beginning this week, Spokane. Customers pay for the food when they pick it up.
Farmers can also access the website, posting photos of their products and providing information about them. They set their price, and the software adds a 30 percent markup, Stevens said.
She doesn’t see a downside for the farmer.
“Everything is pre-sold,” Stevens said. “It’s not like going to the farmers’ market and hoping you sell everything and if you do sell everything, wondering if you missed an opportunity to sell more.”
When the shopping period closes Monday afternoon, farmers receive the list of items that were ordered. They deliver the items to one of the three locations Tuesday morning.
Stevens takes all items to her base in Chewelah and then sorts and redistributes them to the proper pickup location.
The program will operate year-round. Winter items include eggs, bread, dairy and storage vegetables.
More than 70 farmers are signed up.
The business started 1 1/2 years ago as the Chewelah Farmers’ Market and changed its name with the Spokane expansion. Stevens expects the Spokane location will more than double the existing 300 customers.
“Not every customer can make it to the market,” she said. “This is another arm of the farmer’s marketing strategy.”
Karen Kinney, executive director of the Washington State Farmers Market Association, said her organization supports farmers and shoppers connecting, but she isn’t sure online markets make that connection.
“The whole concept of a farmers’ market is you meet the person that grew your food, you have an opportunity to ask questions, interact and learn more about what you’re buying before you buy it,” she said. “It’s much harder to do that when you’re shopping online and looking at a picture.”
She says it’s hard to predict whether more online markets will start up, but she feels there will likely be a place for both models.
“It’s a chance to experiment and try different things,” she said. “Online selling works, let’s have it work for farmers.”
Amy McCann, CEO and co-founder of Local Food Marketplace, LLC in Eugene, Ore., provides the software for online farmers’ markets, food hubs and cooperatives, including Northwest Farm Fresh. Her company has 65 customers in the United States and Canada, and recently released an application allowing customers to shop using mobile devices.
Gary Angell, a farmer near Reardan, Wash., said the new Spokane location coincides with the closing of most farmers’ markets for the season.
He said the online market is also a good alternative for customers who don’t have the time to go to markets, and offers more selections of some items. The online market also provides an opportunity for smaller operations who can’t attend all of the roughly 15 farmers’ markets in the Spokane area, he said.
“Food (doesn’t) quit growing when school starts — customers really stop going to the market about that time,” he said.