Farmers in Vermont have about 600,000 state residents – plus visitors – to sell their products to. That's not a big market.
One company trying to help expand the reach of Vermont farms outside the state's borders is Farmers to You, based in Berlin, Vt.
"They connect farmers in Vermont with families in the greater Boston area who want to be able to eat fresh food grown not too far away, but have trouble getting access to it at their local markets," says Candace Page, food writer for the Savorvore Section of the Burlington Free Press. She says owner Greg Georgaklis aggregates food from about 50 Vermont farms and sells it to families in the Boston area.
Page says this is important for farmers, especially small farms in Vermont. "If you think about it, the system of food distribution in the U.S. is not friendly to small, organic, diversified farms," says Page. "Farms don't have the time to get their products on supermarket shelves in Boston, even if the supermarkets were willing to deal with it, which they aren't. If you live in an urban area and you want to eat locally grown food, you're going to have a hard time doing it."
Page says Georgaklis thinks the whole system is broken, "because there's not a simple, existing way to connect the consumer with the farmer, beyond once-per-week farmers markets. The CSA model [is] easy in Vermont, where we have so many of them, but not so common elsewhere," she says.
"The key to Farmers to You is the existence of the Internet, which shrinks the distance between Boston and Vermont," says Page.
Families who subscribe to the service pledge to spend at least $40 per week, and every weekend they go to the website to see what is in season and available.
Families order their food on Sunday nights. On Monday, Farmers to You orders the food from the farmers who grow it. The food is delivered to its warehouse in Berlin on Tuesdays, where orders are put together. On Wednesday and Thursday, trucks head down to Boston to drop-off areas where people come and pick up their food.
Page says there are several reasons why Vermont farmers are partnering with the company.
"Farmers to You [serves] up to 750 families in the Boston area, so there is a fair amount of demand there. I talked to three farmers about why they sell to [the company]. Their general response was they get a good price, a better price than they get from most other wholesale markets they enter," she says.
Page says the farmers also noted that they are looking for new markets to expand into. "The day is coming when we can't eat all the butternut squash that we produce in Vermont. So what Farmers to You does is open a new market to farmers outside of Vermont," she adds.
Other reasons farmers are drawn to Farmers to You is that the company does all of the transportation work, and provides an important introduction to the Boston market, says Page.
"The day is coming when we can't eat all the butternut squash that we produce in Vermont. So what Farmers to You does is open a new market to farmers outside of Vermont."
So what do the families in Boston get out of the service?
"They get very good, Vermont-raised food, of course. ... Most of the food sold is organic, but I think even if it isn't organic, people have more confidence in what they eat if they knew who grew it," says Page. "Farmers to You has gone to great lengths to make a connection beyond the food, an emotional connection between the consuming families and the farmers. The website has wonderful videos where the individual farmers on their farms talk about how they grow their food and why they are in the business of growing food."
Page says she has seen other Vermont farms try to expand past the borders of the state as well. "The Harlow Farm in Putney is about to open a stall at the new Boston Public Market in downtown Boston, and they will be selling their own organic produce, but they will also have products from other Vermont farms," says Page.
Page also recently came across a new business called Meyer's Produce. "This is a woman who used to work at Pete's Greens, and she had contacts in New York City," says page. "She is now aggregating produce from Vermont and western Massachusetts and taking it to chefs in New York City and Boston. So this is another potentially significant market for Vermont farmers."
Page adds that the Vermont Department of Agriculture now has at least one position that specializes in what they're calling domestic export, which involves distributing Vermont-grown food regionally and nationally.
The VPR Cafe is produced in collaboration with The Burlington Free Press.