Eat-Commerce: FarmersWeb Helps Big City Buyers Order from Small Farms

Launched three years ago by three Manhattanites, FarmersWeb is a sort of virtual Hunts Point for everything from chicken to cherries to cheese, connecting 400 city buyers to dozens of local farms — with more on the wait list.

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Wholesale transformation. Jennifer Goggin, David Ross and Aaron Grosbard founded an online marketplace that connects local farmers with customers from Eataly to NYU.

“You need to find where we’re going to sell all these chickens.”

So Don Cascun said to his wife, Andrea, after the upstate couple decided to put their 125 bucolic acres to use, starting with 100 fuzzy chicks. By summer, they had 7,000 naturally raised chickens to sell, but area health food stores and farmers markets weren’t putting much of a dent in their supply. They knew Manhattan had an appetite for products like theirs, but had no idea how to tap it.

“How do you talk to a chef?” says Andrea. “It’s a little overwhelming for a farmer to even think about how you begin.”

Enter FarmersWeb, an online marketplace that connects local farmers like the Cascuns with chefs, retailers, corporate kitchens and other wholesale customers. Launched three years ago by three Manhattanites, FarmersWeb is a sort of virtual Hunts Point for everything from chicken to cherries to cheese, connecting 400 city buyers to dozens of local farms — with more on the wait list.

Here’s how it works: Farmers set up a Facebook-like profile on the FarmersWeb site, complete with photos and a list of products and prices. Buyers like Eataly, Roberta’s, Sweetgreen, Peninsula Hotel, Nomad and Cookshop can browse and place orders from multiple farms. Inventory is automatically updated to reflect orders, payment is streamlined and farmers make their own deliveries.

The innovative system is a far cry from the typical wholesale process, an inefficient mix of e-mails, faxes and phone calls among many parties. And it cuts out middlemen and warehouses, which can take considerable cuts out of price and freshness.

As a result, chefs aren’t the only ones happily clicking. FarmersWeb is getting locavore fare to dining halls at Spence, NYU and the New School, lunching lawyers at Proskauer Rose, culinary classrooms at ICC and Natural Gourmet Institute and even hungry Giants fans at MetLife Stadium. The results are as much a boon for farmers as for urban eaters.

The Cascuns, for example, are now doing a brisk business through FarmersWeb, selling chicken, duck, pheasant and eggs to retailers like Eataly and restaurants like Amali and Print.

“When I think about how we’ve grown,” says Andrea.” It’s just mind-boggling. It wouldn’t have happened without FarmersWeb.”

Photo credit: Patrick Kolts

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AMY CORTESE is an award-winning journalist who writes about topics spanning business, finance, food, wine and travel. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Business Week, the New York Times, the Daily News, Portfolio, Mother Jones, Afar, The American, the Daily Beast, Talk, Business 2.0, and Wired, among other publications. Her recently published book, Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From it (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), draws upon her experience covering these diverse realms to explore how a small shift in investment away from multinationals towards locally-owned enterprises can reap enormous economic and social benefits for individuals, their communities and the country.