Bonnie Cha

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Farmigo Opens Doors to Online Farmers Market

The benefits of your local farmers markets are plenty. You’re getting fresh food, supporting local farms and helping to create a more sustainable food system. But with limited hours and locations, you probably can’t take advantage of it as much as you’d like.

So, a company called Farmigo is stepping in to help.

Today, Farmigo launched its online farmers market where consumers can find and purchase goods from regional farmers and producers and have it delivered to a local drop-off point. The service is now live in San Francisco and New York and will expand to Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia in the coming months.

The idea is similar to CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) where you buy a membership or subscription to a local farm and receive a box of seasonal produce every week. But there are some key differences.

Rather than go the home delivery route, which can get very expensive, Farmigo works on a community-driven model where delivery points are established at convenient pick-up locations (or food communities, as Farmigo calls them), such as a workplace, school, church or community center. Farmigo requires a minimum number of members in each community and will work with individuals through the process.

Each location gets its own marketplace and, based on the farms in that area, Farmigo connects communities with five to six local farms to offer a range of products like fruits, vegetables, dairy, bread and meat. Users can then go online to see what’s available and place weekly orders, selecting what they want and how much they want. Farmers then deliver orders to your selected drop-off point within 48 hours of harvest.

Compared to CSAs, Farmigo gives you more control over what you order, and also gives you access to a variety of local businesses, just like a true farmers market.

On the farmer’s side, the benefit is that they’re better able to scale production and it gives farms that only specialize in one or two products the opportunity to participate in the program. They also make more money. Farms receive 80 percent of the sales, compared to the 9 to 20 percent they get when going through a traditional grocer. Farmigo receives 10 percent for each transaction.

Farmigo was founded in 2009 by Benzi Ronen, who previously worked at SAP as vice president of product management, to provide online software to farmers to help them manage their CSA subscriptions. The company currently works with more than 300 farms in 25 states.

But about a year ago, Ronen realized that CSAs were only reaching about 1 percent of the population, so the company started looking into ways to expand that number.

“We realized that everybody loved farmers markets and were passionate about eating local, fresh-from-harvest food, but time restraints made it inconvenient to do it weekly,” said Ronen in an interview with AllThingsD. “So we set out on a journey to bring the farmers market experience to the consumer in a convenient way that would allow people to get food the way they want and create an alternative food system.”

Farmigo has been testing its online farmers market in San Francisco and Brooklyn for the past two months. Carrot Creative, a new media marketing agency located in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, has been one of the communities testing the program.

“We have great restaurants and food trucks in Brooklyn but the benefits of having fresh food are unparalleled,” said Chris Petescia, co-founder of Carrot Creative. “People are sharing recipes, and it’s created a sense of community in our office, which is a new dimension I wasn’t expecting.”

But what about a sense of community between customer and seller? After all, one of the great things about farmers markets is the opportunity to talk and interact with the local producers, and moving the shopping experience online could take away from that.

Petescia said the local farmers often make the deliveries themselves and take time to chat with the customers. “They seem pretty stoked when they see people getting so excited about their deliveries,” said Petescia.

Nick Papadopoulous, general manager at Bloomfield Farms in Petaluma, Calif., agrees. “We started using Farmigo about six months ago after struggling to develop a CSA business, and we’ve seen some promising early results,” said Papadopoulous. “We have high hopes on how the service can change the way people interact with their local farmers.”

Etsy and Kiva have also started food communities, while Twitter and Google have adopted Farmigo’s CSA-based model. Still, Farmigo might face difficulties in areas where there’s not enough resources or not enough awareness. Ronen admits that it will be a challenge to bring the service to what he calls “food deserts” — one that will require a team effort.

In addition to the launch of the San Francisco and New York communities, Farmigo also announced today that it has received $8 million in Series B funding from Sherbrooke Capital, RSF Social Finance and previous investor Benchmark Capital.

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