It’s hard to believe that in the United States, food travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table. Meanwhile out of every retail dollar spent on food, only 15 cents returns to the farmer or rancher. Our supply chain is squeezing every last penny out of the American farmer. This is not economically or environmentally sustainable. Whether it’s a cattle farmer having to compete with the four major meatpackers (Tyson, Cargill, JBS, & National Beef) that control most of the meat industry, or the fruit and vegetable farmer having to compete with produce being hauled across the country from mega farms in California, these farmers are our neighbors and are a keystone to our communities. It’s time we make an effort to revert to a more traditional shopping approach. It’s time to shop local.
In 2020, a farm outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania asked if I could help them with selling online. Twin Springs Fruit Farm grows a variety of fruits and vegetables which they sell at multiple farmers’ markets throughout Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia. In the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they offered their customers the option to place online preorders, and then pick up at one of the farmers’ markets. Twin Springs’ customers loved the convenience of preordering, but in regards to technology, it was difficult for the farm to manage. After helping out the farm for a few weeks and improving their digital workflow, I realized there are a lot of great e-commerce platforms available on the internet, but none that I would consider “farmer friendly.”
I asked the owners of Twin Springs Fruit Farm, “If I put together a team to build an e-commerce platform that would allow you and other farms to sell online, but would require much less time on the computer, would you switch over and use it? Their response was “Yes, that would be great!” And so, I started to assemble a team of Penn State and Pennsylvania College of Technology students to build TableRockMarkets.com.
After 10 months of development, we successfully launched Table Rock Markets in July of 2021. Our platform makes it easy for farmers to create an online store and upload products. Once up and running, the farmer can add weekly pickup times and locations. Whether a farm is going to multiple farmers’ markets a week, or only wants to offer on-farm pickup once a week, Table Rock Markets is suitable for any size operation.
With Table Rock Markets, customers can see all kinds of different farms across the platform and shop with the ones closest to them. Instead of goods being shipped all across the country, we help shoppers buy from local farmers in their community. Within a few clicks, a customer can choose a farmer, select a pickup time and location, add desired items to their cart, and checkout! The farmer then instantly gets notified of the pre-order that has been placed.
Our mission at Table Rock Markets is to build long lasting relationships between consumers and producers. Our focus from the ground up has been to build a platform that is convenient to use. Growing up on a farm, I understand the value of time, especially during harvest season. We try to maximize the time efficiency of Table Rock Markets to allow farmers to spend less time online and more time in the field. Online shopping is quickly growing, and we want to provide farmers with the necessary tools to leverage the opportunity e-commerce provides.
As technology becomes more integrated into our lives, I think it’s important to use it in modernization. Selling online is a viable way for farms to diversify income and gaining exposure in the community. As I like to say it, let’s use technology to bring people together, not push them apart. As we use the tools available, we can improve our local economies, reduce our environmental impact, establish better relationships, and enjoy high quality goods.
Next time you are shopping in a grocery store, take a moment to read the packaging labels to see where your food is coming from. Then ask yourself, “Are there any farmers around here that I could buy this from?”
Interested in working with Jake at Table Rock Markets? Contact Jake at firstname.lastname@example.org.