Log-on, Buy Local
|Features - Farmers and Markets|
|Written by Kyle Alspach|
When working full time made it impossible to get the farmers’ market, Kelley O’Connor came up with a way to buy local food that was convenient for her — online.
O’Connor, a software engineer living in Sterling, Mass., founded the Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative last year as a way to give local food options to busy people. Once a month, members can place orders on the co-op’s website for a variety of foods, which are all produced within the state. Members then pick up their order at a designated site a few days later. Many products are offered in every season, including cheeses, meats, eggs, and even flour made from Massachusetts-grown grains.
According to O’Connor, selling local food online makes it available to many people who couldn’t get it otherwise. “It's amazing how difficult it is to find local food when you’re working full-time. You just don’t have the time,” she said. Many people joining the co-op have been interested in local food previously, she said, “but never before had a way they could fit it in their life.”
The co-op currently has four pickup sites in Central Massachusetts, but thanks to high interest in other parts of the state, O’Connor expects to add up to six new pickup sites within three months. Possible locations include Somerville, Concord and a South Shore community.
Elsewhere in New England, Local Foods Plymouth in New Hampshire has offered online ordering for local food since 2007. The group sells only foods that are produced within roughly 30 miles of the town of Plymouth, and many items are available year round. Customers can order and pick up their food once a week.
The websites of both the Massachusetts and New Hampshire groups offer plenty of details about the local farmers and producers who are selling products. O’Connor says this easy access to information is another plus for inquisitive customers. “It’s a convenient way to connect with a lot of different local farmers,” she said.
In coming years, O’Connor believes interest in buying local food online will rise along with the demand for local food. For instance, her co-op has more than tripled in size since starting last June, growing to nearly 150 members. The co-op’s food is sorted by volunteers at a site in Central Massachusetts, then driven to the pickup sites — Berlin, Holden, Sterling and Westminster. O’Connor said she’s seeking volunteers to help start the potential new pickup sites, in Concord, Douglas, Shrewsbury, Somerville, Worcester and on the South Shore. Co-op members, who pay a one-time fee of $50 to join, pick up their items once a month, though O’Connor hopes to eventually allow for ordering and pick-up twice a month.
But the co-op isn’t just serving customers hungry for local food offerings, she said. It also provides unique benefits for the farmers who take part. “A farmer can only make it to a certain number of farmers’ markets,” O’Connor said. “But with Mass. Local Food, farmers can access people from all over the state. It gives them a huge customer base to sell their goods to.”