Organic Consumers Association

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Online Food Co-ops Like Nebraska's Create Innovative Virtual Farmers Markets

Right now, I'm facing a problem shared by scores of farmers -- beginning and experienced -- across the country. I have four lambs that have been raised entirely on grass, and I know there are customers eager to buy them.

I just don't know who they are.

The irony of selling directly to consumers is that while farmers gain the largest share of the food dollar this way, it also forces them to be marketers -- something they may not have the skills, let alone the time, to be successful.

As I've said before, I don't yet consider myself a farmer, but I'll use myself as an example anyway. I have a demanding full-time job that I love, and I often spend my evenings and weekends tending to and experimenting with the things we're growing. Someday we'll get to the point where we have enough products to start selling them in addition to eating them. But will we have time to grow them and spend so many hours a week trying to find customers for them?

There is another way.

Nebraska, where I live, has an online, statewide farmers' market modeled after the successful and innovative Oklahoma Food Co-op. Both create a central location for producers and consumers to find each other. The original idea was the brainchild of Robert Waldrop, who still serves as the president of the Oklahoma Food Co-op. From the looks of their website, they, like many food co-ops, rely on their board and volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Our Nebraska version, on the other hand, does employ at least one person part time. 

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