Looking to put locally-grown, sustainable food on your dinner table? For many, that usually means a trip to a weekend farmer's market or a stroll down the pricey aisles of specialty grocery chains.
A Seattle-based startup, Farmstr (www.farmstr.com), says it has an alternative: an online marketplace that lets customers buy directly from dozens of Washington state's estimated 39,000 farmers.
"We're trying to change the face of the food system as we know it," says Farmstr CEO Janelle Maiocco, who spent 20 years in the food industry as a chef, blogger and marketer before launching her company last September. "There are about 300 small farmers that every week have to either close their doors or sell their farm because they lack customers, and they lack direct sales channels to grow their customer base."
That's because it's not enough for farmers to just grow their crops or raise quality livestock. They then have to reach out to restaurant or grocery chains, farmer's markets, or community supported agriculture (CSAs).
What Farmstr does it give them a web-based platform for listing products, setting their own unit sizes and prices, and choosing from 12 dropoff locations in the Seattle area. Customers can then pick up their purchases at times that are convenient for them.
Since the launch, Farmstr has 70 farmers selling to more than 400 customers. Her company's growth charts "are up and to the right. It's guaranteed sales. (The farmers) are almost shocked at that opportunity."
The opportunity for Farmstr? A chance to harvest their part of a $105 billion food market. There are no subscription or membership fees; Farmster gets a small cut of each transaction.
Maiocco figures the timing is especially good for Farmstr, given growing concerns over genetically modified organisms (GMOs), antibiotics and hormones in foods. She believes providing farmers a direct stream of customers who want to eat "clean," organic, locally-grown food without paying premium prices will translate into healthy Farmstr revenues.
"There's not a whole lot of people and warehousing and inventory in the middle, and so the price comes down," she said. "We're not paying the middle anymore, now you're paying the farmer and the price savings get passed on to the customers."
Maiocco doesn't believe she's competing against farmer's markets.
"We love them, we go to them," she said.
But she added that a very small percentage of farmers actually take part in markets because "they have to be there all day, and then there's a second one and a third one."
One of Farmstr's Seattle dropoff locations is the new WeWork space in South Lake Union, which also houses Maiocco's office. For eight years she has authored a blog, Talk of Tomatoes. Maiocco credits her network of fellow food bloggers - and their many readers - for providing fresh customers to Farmstr.
"It's important for people to know that we're all about the quality, the clean food," she said.