No longer are small farmers limited to farmers markets and roadside sales. Today’s family farmers are leveraging technology to reach new markets and stay competitive despite their small size. That’s especially true since the coronavirus pandemic forced many small farms to seek new sales channels as farmers markets and restaurants close and consumers increasingly shop online. Here are just three ways that technology is changing the way small farms operate and resources where farmers can learn more. Seal the Seasons ensures that local produce from family farms are available year-round.
Direct-to-consumer sales shift online
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, one thing quickly became clear to small farmers: They needed a new platform for direct-to-consumer sales, and fast. With customers asked to stay home and socially distance, this meant getting their products listed online.
- Barn2Door and Harvie are two of the newer platforms that have emerged to support online direct-to-consumer sales. However, before subscribing to any service, farmers should ask questions to ensure it’s the right fit.
- Farms that don’t find the right solution in off-the-shelf platforms can build their own online store. Young Agrarians’ DIY website toolkit walks small farmers through the process of building a low-cost ecommerce website.
- Online farm stores won’t gain traction without marketing. Social media in particular is valuable for farmers who want to connect with local consumers but don’t have a lot to spend.
Farmers markets going digital
As many farmers markets closed due to the pandemic, markets found new ways to get products from farms and onto local tables.
- For many, that meant turning to platforms where farmers can list their wares online and deliver via drive-thru and other alternative models instead of setting up a booth.
- While some farmers markets have operated as a drive-thru model, others are offering delivery. This means markets also need a route planning app to keep deliveries as efficient as possible.
- Alternatively, markets can try Market Wagon, a platform that relies on the gig economy for home deliveries. Farmers markets can also set up designated pick-up sites using Market Wagon.
- When it comes to managing employees' shifts, farmers can use software to schedule while on the go.
Food hubs grow regional supply chainsSmall farms aren’t limiting themselves to their local communities. Instead, they’re turning the local food movement into a regional food movement through food hubs. Food hubs are businesses that aggregate, store, process, market, and distribute farm products.
- Seal the Seasons works with farmers in various regions of the U.S. to deliver their produce to local grocery stores.
- While food hubs function a lot like warehouses, their niche demands unique software solutions. Open Food Network is one such solution designed for small food hubs.
- Adding a third party inevitably complicates the supply chain. While direct-to-consumer sales give farmers the flexibility to ebb and flow with the seasons, unforeseen delays and crop failures cause supply chain problemsfor aggregators.
- Working with food hubs also cuts into a farm’s profit margins. However, as Axios explains, building a regional supply chain could increase local farms’ long-term financial stability.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to small farm distribution challenges. While hyperlocal ecommerce may be enough to support some small farms, others will need to look regionally in order to grow their operation. No matter what scale you’re on, one thing is clear: The right technology makes the path forward a whole lot smoother.