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Closing the Farmers Market Loop

Producers selling at Farmers' Markets like the returns generated by their direct-to-retail mode – but have a risk of unsold produce at the close of the market. Developing a subscription list of consumers who would be keen to buy surplus stock and messaging them when this is available could counter this risk.

Photo of Paul Keys
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THE CHALLENGE:

Having talked to producers selling at my local Farmers' Market here in Timaru, New Zealand, I discovered that many have these markets as their only outlet to sell what they make. This is great for the increased returns for their goods – but there is variable and somewhat unpredictable demand – so at times they leave the market with perishable goods with no way to sell them.


THE CONCEPT:

Customers at Farmers' Markets have high regard for the produce they see available, and many are even evangelical in their recommendation of the things they buy there. I propose leveraging this love of local products as a trusted way to let others in the wider region know the quality of these goods and subscribe to a message service alerting them when there is a surplus. This could be coordinated through existing organisations such as the Australian Farmers' Markets Association: http://www.farmersmarkets.org.au or Farmers' Markets NZ Inc: http://www.farmersmarkets.org.nz The local Farmers' Market organisation take responsibility for receiving the orders and dispatching, leaving the producers to get on with what they do best.


A SCENARIO:

Bob the Butcher has 14 kilos of locally raised, corn-fed prime rib left over form the Sunday market which was slow this week because it was raining. That gets messaged out to subscribers (via Twitter, SMS, website, etc) at an attractive rate. They choose from various weekly deals, sometimes bundled, which they can opt to pick up or have delivered. Everyone's happy & the customers love Bob, his beef and the Farmers' Market Association even more than they did before – and can't wait to tell all their friends.


CREDITS: 

Images via Creative Commons: Francesco Pappalardo, Roger Walch, Cleber Mori and Meanest Indian. http://www.flickr.com/photos/cicciofarmaco/5398431848/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowmuse/295087022/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/cleber/2550799422/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/meanestindian/483886997/

+ a hat tip to the good folk at the Timaru Farmers' Market for sharing insights.

Evaluation results

20 evaluations so far

1. How effectively do you think that this concept reconnects food consumers and producers?

It would reconnect food consumers and producers strongly - 81%

It would somewhat reconnect food consumers and producers  - 14.3%

It would not significantly reconnect food consumers and producers  - 4.8%

2. How scalable is this idea across communities and geographies?

This concept can be scaled across many communities  - 81%

This concept will take a fair bit of work to build and scale - 19%

This concept is not particularly scalable  - 0%

3. How quickly could this concept be impactful? 

This concept could happen today - 42.9%

This concept could happen soon with some work - 57.1%

I struggle to see this happening in a reasonable timeframe - 0%

4. How original is this concept?

This concept is extremely original - 76.2%

This concept has some original aspects - 19%

This concept already exists - 4.8%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

This concept rocked my world – it’s brilliant - 81%

I liked this concept but preferred others - 19%

This concept didn’t get me overly excited - 0%

52 comments

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Comment
Photo of Fei Xin

Great ideas! I will looking forward to know more informations about that.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Thought you all might be interested in this aligned development reported over on Fast Company today: http://bit.ly/qJsxsa – "connects sellers and buyers of local produce so nothing goes to waste" And even better – was the outcome of a hackathon.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

It might be interesting for the producer to start with a digital sales log at the beginning of each day. This could be a part of the app that's being developed for this system and work through a mobile device. As sales are happening the farmer can check off items and as the end of the day approaches it would be as simple as clicking a button, sending the inventory list to their network of customers. I believe this would be a great way for a farmer to manage all these different variables under one umbrella.

The application could be a inventory tracker, sales log, cash register (with square! love it!), as well as a revenue projector. Each item in the inventory has a target price that the farmer wants to receive, he/she puts that into the device a they upload the inventory. As the day goes on the device could calculate degradation in the product versus the cost, or the amount of surplus and the amount that it still needs to be sold at to make a profit. There's plenty of variables that could be taken into account, such as booth rental cost, hours in the day, amount of food. If all the details are in a device that can equate the different algorithms then you're essentially creating the mint.com of farmers markets. The farmer is now more in control of their immediate needs and can make educated decisions based on the record of the day.

Photo of Johan Löfström

Regarding the issue on price, I can clearly see one part of the customer group standing around on the farmers market without buying anything, and only waiting for the message when the farmer cuts his price. (however these customers risk that the products they want are soldout on the day)(and they also risk that the best quality is sold)

I would prefer to set up a type of double-sided interactive "silent" auction (that starts when there is 60 or 30 minutes left before the market closes) The seller can set levels of 1) the "high" price that was valid during the open market, 2) a desired lowest price level, where he/she still can sell it without a loss (if the other products sold out at "high" price there would be larger discount possible and still have profit on the whole day). 3) how many hektogram, kilograms that is left of this item.

The prospect buyers can also set a desired price level on what is the highest they are prepared to pay and how many hektograms, kilograms they are looking to buy at that price.
The price can be dropped in small increments from the daily "nomal price level" every 5 minutes, until all products is sold, or until the price reaches the sellers lowest level.

Only if this auction fails to meet buyers for the amount of unsold products it would be donated. (maybe this description is a bit unclear, i might have additional details and ideas that can be further developed, but i cannot really formulate right now. so i wish for some comments on this from other creative Ideators, maybe we can do it better together?) in fact i am sure that we can! :D

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Hi Paul -
I think it would be great if the Farmers Market Association use their staff time to collaborate with the farmers vis-a-vis restaurants. The concept would be for the farmers market staff to go to the local restaurants and fill out a quick survey of produce they tend to use. They can be registered in a x-km radius from the farmers market that does not extend into a neighboring farmers market. All the restaurants in that area will be surveyed with the ingredients they prefer. If there is a surplus, they can be contacted and go pick-up from the market spot within the hour. Even though the farmer would be selling it at wholesale prices, it would be better than throwing it away or not picking up any revenue at all. It would also expose restaurants to new producers and possibly create new consistent wholesale accounts - which restaurant goer isn't a little more happy that that entree is 100% local? In sum, collaborate with the local restaurant owners - they are busy, but appreciate reminders and notices and FRESH!

Photo of Paul Bennett

Hi Paul - I was in the group that built on this idea at the workshop - a lot of incredibly positive feedback - mostly under the guise of "How quickly can we do this?" Lots of excitement about linking it to other ideas, as Louise says, to People's' Kitchen concepts and to the "Celebrate Imperfection" idea. Thanks for your participation, very much appreciated.

Photo of Matthew Collins

I really like this idea and the energy around its brilliance and simplicity. The refinement I suggest is to connect it with food banks and shelters that are always in need of extra food.

I read and appreciate the concern about the farmers losing money due to customers relying on cheap produce when the market closes. If farmers regularly donate left over waste they would receive tax credits for their donations (in the U.S. anyway). The added benefit of the donation is getting quality produce to consumers who would not be able to afford it otherwise.

This idea might be complexifying it a bit, but it also takes into consideration a broader set of "consumers" beyond the regular farmers' market patron.

Photo of Louise Wilson

It needs a 'for profit' People's Kitchen idea - if people understood that the left over food was paid for (a nominal amount) so that the farmers didn't lose out, then a unique system could be created. The farmers have their costs covered, the kitchen doesn't spent a large amount of money and the consumers know that it is 'paid for waste' food they are eating...

Photo of Matthew Collins

That almost hints at combining this with the: Regional Food System+Commercial Kitchen+Food Entrepreneur Incubator=Collaborative Community concept. Perhaps a sliding scale membership fee for access to the food and People's Kitchen. This would draw attention to both concepts through targeting consumer and vendor outlets, while getting the Leftovers sold!

Photo of Matthew Collins

...of course, some of the membership fees would go to farmers and perhaps the leftovers would still be sold at a reduced rate.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Really like this idea. Here is a possible refinement:

My wife goes bonkers every year for farmer's market cherries. She asked me to go today just to get the season's first batch. Let subscribers create "favorite food alerts" to get automatic notifications when their favorites become available.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Great idea, Nate. It's all about asparagus at the moment which is a) topical and b) interesting as the season is pretty short.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

I love that this concept could be also used to connect with various non-profits...ie homeless shelters, animal rescues, etc. I'm guessing many farmers would be happy to donate some of their surplus, but have neither the time nor the resources to seek these organizations out. Your concept would be a great way to connect them.

While I'm not sure about tax incentives in Australia, it is possible that the farmers would be able to receive a tax break for charitable donations of their surpluses.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Myself and a group of friends have been exploring a variation of this idea for some time focusing on the implemention of repeat/pre orders and the delivery of those orders after market if they are not picked up. This would help the producers predict the quantities required for market and a guarantee to market visitors that the stall holders will have their order and will not have run out.
It would also assist in market turn out as people will more likely attend the market to pick up their order if they have pre ordered it - regardless of the weather.
We were exploring providing these options through the Timaru Farmers Market's website (I'm also a regular, with my wife on it's board and it's website running on my company's software) and by ultimately extending it so producers could manage the centralised product listings from their own websites. The addition of an app/text "push" alerts of excess produce as described here by Paul (Hi Paul - Steve told me about this great site) could fit the model very well.
The hardest parts were managing the drop off (at extra cost?) of those pre/repeat orders not picked up, it was assumed you would pay for the pre/repeat orders at the time of ordering online.
We did some initial graphic work on it but lack of funds for new ventures has held us back.
Oh an Paul - yea I'm one of your "clients" , I've got a web software company and share office space with an iphone/smartphone "app" company all in our same little town :-). Guess its logical nowadays to meet up and have these conversations via a website on the other side of the world.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great to have you on board Hamish. Some of our OpenIDEO team were just in Brisbane – collaborating with Queensland state government & others, to brainstorm further on local food issues. We're really excited that the challenge is also attracting City Councillors from New Zealand!

Photo of Sina Mossayeb

I lub this idea. I want to help. Tell me how and i'm over it.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Good Buys got folks excited at the Ideas Festival in Queensland. Areas discussed in our workshops that you might like to explore further – how to enhance viral spread of the app and user engagement, community ratings + feedback loop and potential addition of an auction layer. Bring on the builds!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Way to go on making the Shortlist on the Local Food Challenge! Selecting 20 concepts out of over 600 was a tough job and we're excited to have you move through to the Refinement Phase. You can get a low-down on how the phase works over on Field Notes: http://bit.ly/refine_lowdown

Basically over the next 10 days we'd like you to further fine-tune your idea. You might explore opportunities and challenges to implementation, visualise further, expand on engagement strategies or connect various dots and details that would assist bringing your concept into fruition.

If you hit the Update This button on the right of your post, you'll see we've added 5 new fields to help you refine: Concept Builds, Actions, Project Partners, Funding Sources and Virtual Team. Check them out and feel free to keep updating your post throughout the phase – based on feedback and collaboration with fellow OpenIDEATORS and your own ideating goodness!

Photo of Paul Fr

just a thought- the mobile phone makes a lot of sense, I was wondering if another media could also be used to send information such as electronic billboards
What I also like is that every farmer could use it regardless of infrastructure around him. It could spread so quickly !

Photo of Sina Mossayeb

Paul. This REALLY has lots of power potential. I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees this. You've developed a system--which is inherently far more important than any app or mode of delivery. In a way, I'm a bit humbled by its simplicity and my inability to really build on it. Here are things that stand out as awesome plus:

1. You don't need a smart phone for notification. You could setup an iPhone app (like the lovely one you've mocked-up) but you can also do a simple notification via SMS texting too. DING!
2. You could include a "pull" feature via texting. So users can say "#tomatos" and then a list of deals come to them.
3. The subscription (i.e., repeatable nature of a bid) is super impressive and has really thrust behind it making the idea sustainable (and not just a quick fix).

Some thoughts on pickup:
Location will be key to this idea. Where will people find the producers? Is it a central market? a farm? or is it shipped?

Honestly, I wish there was a sand box so we could build this thing in prototypes. Perhaps you know someone who can sketch out the schema you describe, and perhaps even some features of an app (even if SMS # commands). It's just too good of a potential idea!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Love the pull-feature hashtag build.
Though in NZ + Australia we spell it #tomatoes ;^)

Photo of Sina Mossayeb

argh! thank goodness one doesn't get judged on intellect based on spelling.

Photo of Meena Kadri

you might by some, given we have a spell-check feature ;^)
not by me though.

Photo of Paul Keys

It certainly is a simple plan so far! The Farmers' Markets have an existing network on the internet, with a trusted brand, and a group of consumers who know and love the products, and who could be signed up to see regionally and nationally available product when they turn up at the physical market. They can write ratings of products they know . The Markets also have a relationship with the producers who have embraced the direct-to-consumer idea.


There is a tension for the Farmers' Markets to get behind a method of transaction which bypasses their physical marketplace, but they may welcome the opportunity to expand their activity and spread it over more days of the week. I can see it expanding the physical marketplace as more producers see it as viable to have a presence there to be included in this model. I see it as an opportunity to be a key player in a market full of lovemarks.

Distribution is the element which doesn't exist in the Markets' at present, and maybe for distant markets this would rely on things like Groupon activity, or food box providers like Ooooby handling logistics (or being a subscriber/buyer). Initially to keep things simple perhaps perishables are pickup only and non-perishable delivered distantly.

Sina,I don't know any app writers- or if I do they aren't letting on to me. I would be raving on about my dream list so they keep it quiet. I know people who are well connected in Farmers' Markets,one of whom is the local FM website designer and is totally switched on.

I love Open Ideo, I can see how this all builds up to impressive outcomes.

Photo of Meena Kadri

@Sina – Lovemarks = http://bit.ly/love_marks

Photo of Krassimira Iordanova

Here is a thought that addresses the location that Sina mentions: http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/the-freedom-economy-store/
What do you think?

Photo of Sina Mossayeb

golden! done and done > great solution Ki

Photo of Paul van Zoggel

Yes! I hope this one becomes real, timing and place can come together for full agenda lifestyles! If this would only take pplace on the other side off the globe :( LOL

Photo of An Old Friend

Good build...the subscription to reduce waste was part of one of my concepts, Adaptive Distribution. I like how you applied it to a particular context, the farmers market.

We have to think about the consequence of designing a subscription specifically for left-overs, as there will be folks who rely on the lower pricing, hurting the profitability of the farmers. This is one reason I made the subscriptions only for regular pickups, with the due-to-expire produce sold at a bargain price on the side. Don't get me wrong, I'm still struggling with this issue!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Kirk, do you think that having this service available will be more likely to keep people from going to farmers markets to get the discounted goods or increase the number of people that have access to locally grown food?

It's an interesting question - and I don't know what the answer is.

Photo of An Old Friend

Good question Maia...I'll take a stab at it. I think it depends on how it is designed. Presumably, the business-minded farmer wants to maximize his or her profitability. Since minimizing soon-to-be-expired food is part of this equation, and it would vary, I'm wondering how a subscription model would work? And would there be potential for people to subscribe to the lower-priced version of the product instead of the higher-priced version? (I sometimes ask questions to make a point...don't feel like you have to answer :)

I'm quite certain that we could figure out a way to make it work! If we could identify the second-tier market segment, and set it up so that the farmers send out a Twitter alert to these customers, it would account for the fact that there is no predictable, regularly occurring "guarantee." Plus, I think that by creating this sense of scarcity and exclusivity, it would paradoxically increase their loyalty. Am I making any sense? I haven't had my coffee yet...

Photo of Paul Keys

My concept is more about maximising the returns to producers, for sustainability of supply reasons,and allowing consumers who would not normally have access to these products (for reasons of distance mainly) to obtain them at normal price. My experience of Farmers' Markets is that they have quality goods unobtainable otherwise, and I want to find a way for these to be available to more consumers without diluting the returns-to-producers which normal distribution channels bring. I don't really see it a a second-tier cut price market

Photo of Paul Fr

I would not worry about the price reduction. Those price cut are happening everywhere. Yet most people still shopping at the regular price because its more convenient.
Also, Paul's idea on maximising returns also reduces food waste :)

Photo of An Old Friend

I love this approach. Simple and powerful.

I've been conversing with folks on a local rewards-based credit card (http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/discover-local-credit-card/), and think it is one of those ideas that flexibly bridges to other concepts, or bundles together several concepts in a way that customers can easily comprehend.

... "Closing the loop" could be a stand-alone concept, or part of a larger "local" program with other elements that benefit both producers and consumers... all tied together by a card.

Photo of Meena Kadri

We love it when Pauls support each other! @Paul Keys: did you know @Paul Frigout was the winner of our Open Planet Ideas challenge? http://bit.ly/paul_rocks

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Great idea! And as others have noted, I think that it's great that this was inspired by an act of asking and listening.

NY Food Trader (http://nyfoodtrader.org/) might be an interesting thing for you to check out. I think the social media or mobile device app you proposed is more effective in terms of potential adoption, but this site is interesting to look at from a back of house logistics standpoint.

Also love the potential charity connection mentioned below. Could be an opportunity for an NGO to emerge. Check out this group as an example: http://www.foodshuttle.org/about-us.

Photo of Diego Gonzalez Carvallo

I like your inspiration.
Perishable goods is one of the for mayor issues I have found for local producer when they produce for an unknown demand. A good web based platform or a well design app would be great.

Photo of Krassimira Iordanova

Paul, I just came accross this- http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/25/how_food_explains_the_world?page=0,9 and I somehow thought about your concept. What if we use the unsold produce from farmers and sell it to organisations like World Food Program (WFP) who packages the food and delivers to those in need...I know we're leaving the boundaries of Austrialai...but this is just a thought...

Photo of Meena Kadri

Might it be better to support better local food systems and infrastructure in the context of poverty rather than dispatching food round the globe? I'm a bigger fan of this kind of thing: http://bit.ly/mathare_thrive

Photo of Louise Wilson

Paul, this really does close the loop and give farmers a sense of ownership. Connecting the supplier with the consumer on a fairly local level (which is so scalable) is brilliant.

Photo of Paul Keys

Thanks Louise.The whole idea came out of the benefits of the the producer-consumer direct interaction, which was identified as important for the producers ( totally aside from the margins of direct-to-retail) and answers all of the curiosities of the buyer, who take the opportunity to give some love back to the producer. I know I would pick up on opportunities to sample from other markets which I can't get to with this model

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Paul, thanks for asking the local farmers at the farmer's market. It's great to see so many concepts in this challenge, but to ask the farmers what can help the farmers is simple yet brilliant.

Great concept, too. I can imagine some people who would maybe not go to farmers markets because they perceive it as expensive, may wait for the bargains. It would be especially great to find a way to bring this to lower income groups.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Nice build Arjan. Possibly an avenue for a Buy 1, Get 1 option to gift (or subsidise?) to a special subscriber group who can't manage to throw their hard earned cash around on prime rib, etc? What other ideas have OpenIDEATORS got for how this might reach folks struggling to make ends meet? Farmers Market Volunteer points which can be converted to Hyperlocal Good Buys credit? What else? Unleash your constructive skills on this...

Photo of Louise Wilson

Depending on how frequent the market takes place or where the next nearest one is, the left over food could be sold a discount to encourage those struggling to make ends meet to make something out of it and sell it on. i've learnt that if I go to my local market at the end of the day, I often get overloaded with masses of cheap brocolli and cauliflower. I can make a huge bake out of it but it ends up being too much to eat! If people could take what they have cooked and sell it on both parties could benefit.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

There could be an opportunity to copy the "Philly Bucks" vouchers as well or perhaps to create distribution contracts with stores in something like the "Healthy Corner Store Initiative".

http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/getting-good-food-to-the-places-that-need-it-most/

Photo of Paul Keys

I like the idea of spreading the charitable load-rather than producers gifting surplus, their being able to discount to individuals or groups who then add value and/or donate ensures that there is an incentive not to just let this surplus go to waste, and can keep costs down for buyers at the regular price.

Photo of Vincent Cheng

Excellent idea Paul!

The current hyped trend of 1st generation discount sites (like Groupon) is all about the big deal (which is great for consumers, but can actually sometimes cause losses for the local businesses). The 2nd generation of these sites are evolving offers that make more sense for businesses as well: for example, multi-step deals that create repeat loyalty , and time & place based discounts that allow restaurants to get more customers during off-hours (sort of like targeted, instant happy hours).

Like these 2nd generation discount sites, your concept very smartly provides discounts in a way that actually helps farmers with little risk (the surplus produce will go bad soon anyways).

Kudos!

Photo of Paul Keys

Thanks Vincent, I wanted to include the notion of a Groupon-type of deal to minimise distribution costs/hassles but I am a stranger to how it works in practice. The benefit of a supplier having direct knowledge of end-user demand must be significant

Photo of Stella Tran

Love this concept. Easy to implement and everyone wins. If we spoke with buyers as well, I'm sure we would find that as often as not, it isn't always possible to make it to the farmers' markets every week even if that's what they wanted to do.

To think of it, farmers should be using technology to process sales all the time anyway, why keep themselves constrained to farmers' markets as the only sales outlet? There's really no need to wait till a post-market day surplus. Thanks Paul for the great idea.

Photo of Paul Keys

I think there would be an opportunity to use this outside of Market Day, especially for times of a "glut" in production. Part of the loop is the product review from existing consumers to give confidence for new buyers, and this could also be utilised to tweak the production into things not readily available otherwise-for instance I don't need to buy a whole lot of lettuces in summer (because these succeed in my garden) but would be in the market for sweet peppers or cucumbers.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Love this! I also like that you've thought a little bit about a third party that could receive orders and distribute.

To echo Arjan, I think your concept is really fresh because of the inspiration from your local farmer's market. It seems as if this would be a common problem. Thanks for adding!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Great idea to consult the source and listen to part of the process that often goes unseen by the consumer. I'd sign up to get messaged on Farmers' Market deals!