U.S.: online platform takes dirty work out of buying local

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U.S.: online platform takes dirty work out of buying local

Even with blossoming demand for locally grown products, U.S. grocers may find it too challenging or time consuming to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from community growers. Although the local price may be right, an online order through the regional localdirtdistribution center means less time on the phone tracking down products from area farms.

Back in her days working at a natural foods market, Heather Hilleren found this scenario to be just the case. Although local growers were available and willing to sell their goods, their presence on the shelves diminished year after year.

"The buyers were trying to buy local products and they started out with about two dozen local farmers. As each year went by, they kept dropping their local farmers. It wasn’t because of price, because sometimes the prices were cheaper," Hilleren told www.freshfruitportal.com.

"It wasn’t because of quantity or quality. It was because it was so incredibly time consuming to try and get the price sheet by email or have them dropped off.

"Buyers would spend all day trying to order from local farmers, whereas when they wanted to order from the regional distribution center, all they had to do was jump online and it would be done in five minutes."

Out of such frustration, Hilleren developed the idea for Local Dirt, an online platform that automizes local orders in much the way a regional distribution center would.

Through a partnership with AgSquared, a digital planning software for small farms, Local Dirt takes the grunt work out of finding and purchasing locally grown foods.

Farmers take the first step by creating a profile that specifies their product base, price sheets and where they can deliver. From there, AgSquared uses its technical know-how to update inventory based on local harvest schedules.

"When farmers are harvesting is when they're the busiest and that's also when they need to be updating their products. The partnership with AgSquared is because they know when products are due and ready to be harvested. They know when they are being harvested, so it can be automatically uploaded into Local Dirt and saves a big step," Hilleren said.

"Of course, farmers can put in all sorts of tweaks and adjust it so that only certain buyers can see their price sheets, or adjust prices. When a buyer logs in, they see a specialized price sheet that is just geared to them. It is completely based on location, so if someone in Florida jumps on, they are not going to see someone in Wisconsin."

Although the platform is geared toward grocers and retailers, Hilleren said individuals have found it useful as well by taking advantage of product overflows.

"Primarily what they use it for are CSAs (community supported agriculture). It's becoming really popular. The CSAs always have extra product because they have to put the exact same thing in every box. So there’s always left over. They upload the extra product on Local Dirt. Their members go in, place an order and when they pick up the CSA box, they also pick up the extra order," she said.

Better yet for individual buyers, Local Dirt also offers a mobile application called Locavore. Through the free program, users can view all of the local farms and farmers markets in their area.

"Locavore is all farms in the United States, so they don’t necessarily have to sign up. It’s just an information platform. People go on and see all farms and farmer markets in the area," she said.

As farmers warm up to the utility of digital devices, Hilleren said platforms such as Local Dirt and Locavore are gaining more traction.

"More and more farms are using technology and becoming more adapted to technology. It’s really been growing and it was definitely the right time to do this," she said.

"Local Dirt has made it easier for them to find local buyers and keep in contact with local buyers. One of the initial fears we heard from just about everybody was that it would hurt relationships with buyers and really it was the exact opposite. It added to the relationship. It gave another tool to communicate with buyers."


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