Revitalizing Regional Food Systems with Virtual Farmers Coop Software

Customers at Tri-County Farmers Co-op Market at Du Bois, Pennsylvania, 1940. Credits: Library of Congress

Virtual farmers coop software allows small, regional farmers to do what local farmers have always done best — work together for the good of all.

The strength of regional food systems has always been in the diversity of many small food producers working together to feed their community. The problem small farmers have faced since the mid 20th century is competing in a system that increasingly pushed regional food systems out of business in favor of large farms and a decentralized food supply chain.

In 1935, 6.8 million farms were spread across the U.S., supporting farm families and rural communities, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). But that number began to drop sharply in the 1970s. As of 2020, there were just slightly more than two million farms in the U.S.

The advent of the internet has felt like more of the same. Sure, small farmers can build a website.  But how can small farmers compete against online grocery delivery apps and their vast selection and marketing budgets? The internet has empowered a global exchange of information (and products), but at what cost to regional supply chains and local markets?

For small farmers, the solution isn’t avoiding online sales and the e-commerce marketplace.  It’s working together, just like small farmers have always done, embracing a new virtual way of doing business. But with a local emphasis.

Food4All Hub, a free farmers marketplace software solution and app, allows small, regional farmers and food artisans to work cooperatively.  And it offers their community a virtual way to find, purchase and support regional food producers.

Save Time and Money with Virtual Farmers Coop Software

The last thing most small-scale farmers and food producers have the time (or money) to do is to build a website and online marketplace. And then maintain it. Nor do many small-scale farmers have the time, money and facilities to build, staff and market a large farm stand.

Virtual farmers market software solves both of those problems.

Some farmers adopt e-commerce tools offered through web hosting sites. But those tools are generic, not designed for farmers and food producers. Plus, they cost money.

Another option is selling through a regional distributor or a food hub. But that almost always comes with a big financial hit. To participate, farmers have to sell their products much cheaper than the prices they capture when selling direct. And many farmers find they end up competing with other farmers selling the same products but with no way to highlight their individual stories.

Food4All gives small farmers and regional food producers a free e-commerce site for their specific needs using software designed first and foremost for direct-market, local farmers, ranchers, and food producers. Then Food4All Hub, our local food hub solution, allows regionally-located farmers with Food4All sites to work together to create a marketplace combining all of their stores. It’s just like a farmers market, only online.

Plus, the Food4All Hub solution sorts farmers by their store first, not by product. Consumers searching for eggs, for instance, don’t see a list of eggs by price. Instead, shoppers read about the producers offering eggs.  They learn the producers story before deciding which eggs to buy.

Online Food Hub Software Lets Farmers Give Customers the Shopping Experience They Want

Shoppers today are enthusiastic about purchasing local food.

Direct farm marketers saw their sales surge by 30 to 50% in 2020 over previous years’ sales. A Google search analysis found more consumers were searching “local food,” according to research conducted by Michigan State University.  That’s good news for small farmers and regional food systems.

But, consumers also signaled that they are busy and would prefer to do their shopping online, even if it means they will still need to pick up their purchases. Seventy-three percent of shoppers said they had purchased grocery items online with the last three months, according to a February 2021 survey of 8000 shoppers.

Traditional farmers markets have always been the ‘brick and mortar’ solution for regional farmers. Working together regional producers offer a large selection of locally-grown and produced items to their community. Taking those markets “virtual” provides the benefits modern-day consumers want — quick and easy online ordering, one payment transaction, a large selection of items  — while still keeping the sales focused on the local products consumers desire.

Food4All Hub gives marketplace farm and food participants the option to decide how to get their products to the consumers once orders are placed. It could be a pre-determined pick-up location, at their farm stand or by delivery. The marketplace decides.

Providing One Farm Marketplace Solution for All E-Commerce Needs

Another thing farmers and food artisans don’t have time for? Managing numerous online sales channels.

Time is money.  It costs a lot to constantly update inventory and product availability for multiple e-commerce sites or fresh sheets. Virtual farmers coop software like Food4All’s offer a single solution that integrates all of a vendor’s e-commerce needs into one site.

A farmer, rancher or food artisan with an individual Food4All account can sell their products directly through their Food4All online shopping page. They can link the shopping page to their existing website and their social media. And, they can use that same Food4All account to join in with other farmers and food producers in their region within a Food4All Hub marketplace.

Each producer’s products can be easily turned on (or off) within the hub. Oversold that week through your direct sales or via your CSA? No problem. You are able to manage your products availability through the marketplace and any other channel you connect into through your Food4All account.

And, if a vendor uses Food4All for all of their orders, they can easily keep track of all their sales for record-keeping purposes. Some vendors even run on-farm direct sales through their Food4All site. They have one place keeping track of their total sales.

Many Small Farmers Working Together Online Creates a Strong Regional Food System

Before farmers believed they had to “get big or get out,” they worked together.

Farmers would share harvest equipment and work their way from farm to farm.  Each farm family rotating to help their neighbors until everybody’s harvest was in and all had a successful season. The same concept spawned the advent of farmers markets – a localized place all the regional food producers could go to sell their products.

Times might be a lot different in many ways than 100 years ago.  But the Food4All Hub marketplace solution is that same solution, adjusted for the modern-day world. Many small farms, working together, create a dynamic and powerful regional food system ensuring everyone’s success.

Are you interested in learning more about Food4All Hub technology? We’re helping farmers markets and food hubs across the country utilize our free, online food hub technology. Schedule your free demo today!