Website helps Rock County farmers market their wares

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

— Bridget’s Family Bakery of Evansville offers 7-grain bread, along with dozens of other baked goods.

Ruegsegger Farms of Blanchardville provides beef brats with onions and much more.

For salad lovers, the Redmer Farm of town of Plymouth grows deep green spinach.

More than a year ago, Rick Richard of Janesville launched an online farmers market, featuring a handful of Rock County vendors and 40 products.

“As far as I know, we are one of the first in Wisconsin,” he said.

Today, Farmer at Your Door has almost 20 vendors selling more than 300 total items. But the number of people who order from the year-round market remains small.

“Between 15 to 20 people will place orders in a good week,” Richard said. “We have a lot of repeat customers. Getting the word out is an ongoing process.”

Rock County buyers place orders once a week online. They either pick up the produce at Basics Coop in Janesville or request to have it delivered to their doorsteps for a small fee. Delivery costs are $4 in Janesville and Beloit and $6 outside Janesville and Beloit in Rock County.

Producers know exactly how much to harvest based on orders.

“I can leave the produce on the vine until the orders come in,” said Merry Evans of Afton, who sells vegetables and is known for her ground cherries and garlic. “Talk about fresh.”

In the past, she has sold at traditional farmers markets.

“We don’t have to pick the produce the night before anymore or load the truck at 4 a.m. on the day of the market,” she said. “I like the online market a lot. But the customer base needs to grow. It just needs more exposure. People need to realize that they will bring the stuff to you.”

Market manager Diane Van Horn handles most of the weekly market operations. She is the key contact with growers and customers and has started talking to local people who live in senior apartments.

“Many do not have vehicles or a way to get to the farmer’s market,” Van Horn said. “They are excited about getting fresh things delivered to them.”

Last year, vegetable grower Lee Zoellner of Plymouth Rock Farm sold out of potatoes, so he planted more this year.

“I’m still finding out what people want so I can grow those things,” he said. “I gather the produce that people order and put it on my doorstep. The market manager picks it up and distributes it. If people like the produce, they can buy more. It is really a painless process.”

Richard was motivated to begin the market after watching the documentary, “Food, Inc.”

The unflattering look at corporate farming in the United States “opened my eyes about where our food is coming from and how important it is to keep an eye on how that food is being produced,” he explained.

Richard began talking to area farmers and asking them what they need to be more successful. Many said the distribution network is still small for local food.

“I did some research to see what communities are doing to bring more local food to folks,” Richard said. “The model of an online farmers market started popping up.”

He hooked up with a market website that he calls user-friendly. Customers log onto the website and create accounts.

Each week, growers post what is available.

Customers choose what and how much of it they want online from Sunday through Tuesday.

Orders are delivered or available for pickup on Thursdays.

Richard is passionate about eating locally produced food.

“The average distance a meal travels to our plate is 1,500 miles,” he said. “I’m trying to play a small part in reducing the number to something like 30 miles.”

At the same time, he wants to see more profit in the pockets of local farmers, who, in turn, will have more money to spend locally.

Richard runs a small business and also owns a small farm near Janesville. He did not start the market to make money.

“The reward is seeing a little more locally grown food being sold and enjoyed,” he said. “We are getting closer to have the market sustain itself. We’d like to grow and eventually start supplying restaurants and schools with fresh food.

“We plan to keep going for a long time.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

Last updated: 7:58 am Monday, July 29, 2013

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