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Growing a Market

On Thursday nights, Farm Bureau member Heather Tiefenthaler is the one making all that noise in the lobby of the YMCA.

Community members are buzzing in and out, picking up bags of food sourced from local farmers and chatting with the volunteers she helps to coordinate.

A local foods advocate, she describes this exchange as “micro economic development.” And it’s also something of an experiment.

Tiefenthaler had seen the opportunity created by the local farmers markets sprouting up in her community. But she also saw the toll they take on farmers who have to hop from location to location, spending precious time away from the farm.

“At some point the farmer will be totally burned out and nobody wants that. We want them on the farm and earning a living wage and for people to have good food,” she said.

So Tiefenthaler decided the next step was to take the farmers market concept online—not to replace the existing market, but to allow more customers to participate and to help farmers manage demand. The Champaign County Ohio Virtual Farmers’ Market was born.

“Customers would know in advance what’s available and vendors wouldn’t have to set up a traditional stand and take products that may not sell and sit there all afternoon,” she said.

The process is simple: Vendors post what foods they have available and customers fill their online shopping carts. Market volunteers collect and distribute the food and collect a fee, which is passed back to the producer.

Almost a year into the experiment, she is pleased with the results. The pool of buyers is expanding and that means additional income for local farmers.

“There’s just so many good things about this,” Tiefenthaler said: Farmers can pick produce at its freshest, there’s less waste and it is bringing the community together.

“A little bit of group effort goes a lot farther than people doing it on their own,” she said.

Make Your Connections
Online networks continue to allow Ohio Farm Bureau to expand its efforts to connect people around issues that matter to them. The organization regularly helps members learn from one another by sharing experiences related to food and farm policy. And it is hosting discussions on everything from canning and herb gardening to oil and gas exploration.

“We’re bringing together more experts for single meetings, regardless of location. Your actual questions, submitted ahead of the meeting, help structure how the meetings will flow,” said Dan Toland, Ohio Farm Bureau director of digital strategy. “But best of all, we’re giving members-only access to the experts and information you know and trust.”

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