Farmers who grow fruits and vegetables or who raise and have locally grown meat processed for sale tried out a new concept in marketing last year. Instead of going to a traditional farmers market, they sold goods through a virtual market. All arrangements between the buyer and seller happened on a Web site. Then at a prescribed time the grower dropped off orders and buyers picked them up.
Roy Ballard, Hancock County Extension educator, was the driving force behind obtaining grants to set up a virtual food hub as a pilot project. The hope is that if the concept takes off and grows, virtual food hubs can be set up for actual delivery and pick-up in other areas of Indiana.
Ballard held meetings to introduce growers to the concept a year ago. The virtual market went live in May. You can check out the virtual market at www.hoosierharvestmarket.com.
While Ballard helped organize the hub behind the scenes, it has its own manager, and is open to growers outside of Hancock County.
How it works
Growers join the food hub, paying a membership fee. Last year the membership fee was $150 for the year. The grower must also show proof that they carry a million dollar liability insurance policy. Depending on what they are growing and selling, they may also need to register with the Indiana Department of Health before they can provide products for sale.
Producers are listed in a producer section of the Web site. Each seller can list what they have available at any point during the season. Consumers then go to the Website and check out which producers are offering which products. They can choose who they want to buy from and what they want to buy. The grower delivers what's ordered to a pickup point on a specified day.
Buyer and seller meet: But it may only be online, using the virtual market hub. The buyer and seller may never actually meet in person.