Have you become accustomed to doing much of your food shopping at your local farmers' market? Is the market closing down soon for the year as winter approaches? Do you happen to live either in a densely populated neighborhood, or near a few major crossroads in a more rural area? If so, I have an idea for you.
See, our farmers' markets finish up after Thanksgiving here. Fruit and vegetable producers are pretty thin in the cold months of the year. But farmers producing eggs, meat, and dairy still have food. And they'd still like to sell direct to the consumer rather than a middleman, so as to keep more of the profits in their own pockets. Who can blame them? But with the markets shutting down until spring, these farmers have trouble connecting with their customers. Some will schedule on-farm pickup days. Some customers though don't want to travel that far, even when they know the quality is excellent.
In late 2008 I was speaking with a farmer I knew slightly who farms two counties away from where I live. My county is more densely populated, so he regularly attended markets in my immediate area. He said he was looking for drop-off sites for pre-ordered meats, cheeses, eggs, and other dairy products in my area. I immediately volunteered my home, and specifically, my garage. I live near a big hospital which is the largest employer in the area. Our home is also less than 10 minutes from two major highways that run through this region. That made my offer very attractive to the farmer.
The way it worked was that every other week, a few days before the delivery date, the farmer would send out an email to customers who signed up for his distribution list. He would let everyone know what he had in stock, and at what prices. He listed his own meats and eggs, and the raw milk dairy products and a few baked goods from the separately owned farm adjacent to his own. Orders from customers came back to him, and on delivery day he knew that everything that left his farm was already "sold." There was no guesswork involved for him. He headed home at the end of the day with an empty truck. Along with the delivery at my home, he made three other stops at delivery sites in other counties.
At our place, he put all the ordered food into one of his large coolers. This was kept in one bay of our garage. I simply opened that door on the day of delivery and he put the stuff in the cooler. Since it was winter time, there was no risk of food spoiling, even if the customers didn't arrive for a few hours. He also left a self-addressed and stamped envelope. All the customers who had ordered left their checks in it when they picked up their purchases. I put the checks in the mail to him the next day. There was little risk of theft, since he knew exactly who had ordered what and only had to compare the checks to his orders to reconcile. There was never any issue with that. Only once did we have a no-show, and that was for some beef jerky, which never spoils. So I just left that in the cooler until the next pickup date, and the customer got it then.
This was a hassle-free arrangement for us. All I had to do was make sure I was home at some point the day of the delivery, and open that bay of the garage. After all the orders were picked up, I closed the garage door, collected the envelope, and put it in the mailbox. For that little bit of effort, I got the benefit of local, pastured, organic meat and dairy delivered to my door for four months out of the year. It was a great arrangement for both us and the farmer.
At the PASA conference in early 2009 I spoke with another farmer about this arrangement. He was intrigued by the idea and thought it made a lot of sense. He said he'd think about replicating it with his own customers.
If you live where farmers' markets are seasonal and you have a home in a suitable location, why not run this idea by some of your favorite farmers and see if this idea might work for any of them after the markets shut down? If they've been collecting email addresses from their customers, they've already got a distribution list in the making. You might get free home delivery of top quality foods and help your local farmer at the same time!