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FarmBucks. Another step towards cutting out the middlemen

Harvest Table

Here’s a quick glimpse of the future of food, and it’s a good future.

When you and I buy local food, we typically have two options.

We can buy them at a farmer’s market or we can buy them as a weekly delivery through a CSA (community supported farm).

From my perspective, both methods have flaws.   The market is too dynamic (risky for the micro farmer) and a subscription is too rigid (too little flexibility for the customer).

CSA box

Optimally, it would be great if there was a program that had the benefits of both approaches.  The flexibility of the market and the shared support of the subscription.

That’s where an innovation from a local farm called “Fat Moon” comes in.  They’ve created a program called FarmBucks.  FarmerBucks allows customers buy a year’s worth of purchases before the season at a discount to market prices.

That support allows the farmer to cut out extremely expensive financial and retail middlemen to purchase seed and labor for the growing season (note that this similar to what is going on with Kickstarter and the development of new products).  The farmer then brings the variety of different vegetables produced to a local farmers market to sell.

Harvest Table

The supporter/customer then has the flexibility to select when to purchase food (they can skip a week) and what to purchase.

This sounds like an interesting innovation.  Combine this with software from places like Buckybox, which allows customers and farmers to act like a dynamic community, and we’re getting closer to a resilient solution.

Ever Yours,

 

JOHN ROBB

PS:  The photos of the CSA box and harvest celebration above are from Suzie’s Farm in San Diego.  Also, this month’s resilient strategies report is in post production.  Should be out soon.

PPS:  Here’s an example of how expensive retail distribution middlemen in the US are.  A dairy farm sells milk to the branded distributor for $0.25 a gallon.  It’s sold at retail for $3.00 to $5.00 a gallon.  It’s a broken system.

PPS:  Some farmer’s are telling me that they tried something like this and ran into problems with it (customers crowded in at the last moment).  That’s something I think some an inexpensive online service like Buckybox can solve.  It would allow farms to set some rules (e.g. no more than $40 farmbucks per week) to improve flow control.  It would also allow fun and useful premium service options for members (e.g. customers could use the service to select vegetables going to the farmer’s market the next day).

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • At Fat Moon we manage our farmstand/FarmBucks like a retail business, not a CSA, meaning we are prepared for loss/surplus depending on the moods of our customers. We encourage stocking up at the end of the season – we know folks need to eat through the winter! We also know that folks need to spend their whole credit if they are going to do it again (and make it sustainable) otherwise next year they will remember that they lost $100 and not do it again. Our hardest month was August when so many folks go on vacation and sales slumped when harvest peaked. We’re working to fix that with a few wholesale/restaurant accounts so we can move surplus produce.

  • farmer kate

    Hi was looking forward to linking to buckybox.com but the link does not work .
    Thx
    Kate

    • Shlok Vaidya

      Fixed now, thanks.

  • rwc

    John,
    Our local farmer does an even simpler subscription model where you prepay whatever you want and then has “open barn” days twice a week. You go pick out what you want from what they have on hand and write down what you took on a clipboard that shows you (and your neighbors) what your available balance is on your account. Sort of an honor system with a social accountability overlay. I’ve not heard that theft is a problem. We also can pick up what we want at the farmer’s market.

    Bonus tip – when the tomatoes come in, they all come in at once. If you will promise to meet them at the end of the farmer’s market day and take whatever they have left, you can get quite a discount, since organic tomatoes won’t keep. We end up spending a couple days slipping, canning and making sauce, but it’s worth it the rest of the year for a healthy version of “fast food” at home.

    Robert

    • different clue

      Why won’t organic tomatos keep? And if conventional tomatos WILL keep, why will THEY keep?

  • Around 2007, I was working to get the board of River Hours, a local currency of the Columbia River Gorge, to convert to CSA shares. Watching local currencies founder on the rocks of necessities like food and shelter for literally decades was getting as old as I was. A frequent failure mode is an idealistic local grocer — usually an organic food grocer who also buys locally grown organic produce. This idealistic grocer will join the local currency system before anyone else who provides actual necessities. At first they accept nearly 100% in local currency. Then as they get a pile they can’t spend on horoscopes, acupuncture and “counseling”, they lower the percentage until it is 0% and — being quite alienated from the local community — dump their hoard with resulting hyperinflation.

    It was obvious to me that the way out of this long-term failure mode was to pay labor for CSA’s in CSA shares that took the form of local currency. This also has the advantage of a demurage currency.

    I went far enough to get a local land owner in Hood River to get interested in supplying an acre and had a lady who had previously run a CSA in Montana, then living in Stevenson, to do the layout plan. However, I saw the economic crisis coming and things weren’t moving fast enough to make spring panting, so I pulled up stakes in 2008 and moved back to Iowa. Since being here I’ve become convinced that county-backed currency is the way to go, but I hope these guys are successful.

    This could be a huge deal if enough people try it to find out how it needs to be run.

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