An open letter to farmers wanting to sell me stuff grown on PEI

note after the fact: http://www.gov.pe.ca/af/farmfresh/index.php3 this exists. It is static, but contains lots of information.
Hi,

My name is dave. If you are a farmer on this island, odds are I don’t know you. I’m the web projects lead at UPEI and a social media consultant in Charlottetown. I didn’t grow up on the island and, while i’ve been here 4 years I’ve still not done a particularly great job getting to know the people who grow food here on Prince Edward Island. (i grew up in norther new brunswick) I’ve bought fresh eggs from one farmer, been to an apple orchard a few times, and am currently in the process of trying to go out an strawberry pick. I have a share in a cow currently being raised by a friend in his yard in NS.

I want to have a connection to the food i eat. I want my kids to understand that food comes from somewhere, and really like the health, taste and environmental advantages of buying local food that grows here on the island. We called around today, after looking at a bunch of websites (and i talked to people at the farm fairs last year who assured me that there were “lots of opportunities” to buy fresh food, but had no system other than ‘call whozit who has lettuce early). Some people told us that strawberries picking was starting monday, some said later next week, some told us our information was outdated and one nice lady called us back today and said “we don’t even grow strawberries, i don’t know where you got that idea”.

This is not going to work. I need a simple, one stop place to go to get this information, and I need to not have to call twenty people to find strawberries that aren’t shipped in from who knows where. Same goes for everything else grown on the island. This is not very hard to do. You can do this. I can help, advise, or send you to others who can help you do this. Consider this as my commitment paid or unpaid to be part of a solution for this.

Here’s what i think we need for a Farm 2 Plate website. (in broad terms, think about a page like amazon.com but for farming products on PEI)

  1. We need a website that you yourselves can update with times and products that are available. I currently have a few hundred people doing this at the university… you can learn how, and we can teach you how.
  2. We need a back up person committed to answering phone calls from people who are having trouble. Someone who will teach first but, most importantly, ensure that the information is posted.
  3. We need an automatic way of updating people from around the island when a new ‘availability’ has been posted. This is also not hard. People would be able to subscribe to this website like they would to a newspaper, except they would get the update by email or other means as soon as you put it on the website.
  4. People would need to accept that their product and the ‘client experience’ would be rated. Ratings are critical to success. We need to spread the good news and encourage others to do a little better.

There are a few technical details around this, we would need to decide what the ‘categories’ of food were, and how the content would get spread out. This is also not that difficult. It would require some cooperation, and someone in a position to make decisions, but it’s very easy to change this stuff on the fly. We could do it this way for this season and then talk about it over the winter when the timelines weren’t so short.

And that’s the thing. We could the earliest version of this running by next week. It would need to be worked on, adjusted and, if you’ll pardon the metaphor, weeded, but that’s not a problem either. It’s an organic process and there will be disagreements and frustrations, but i think this is important, and, as you will be in charge of your own content, you can make sure that things look the way you want them to.

I don’t know where we go from here. I would like to hear if you are interested, and how we can go about doing this. It may be that we talk to the government, or some other organization… i don’t know… but i do know that this is possible.

If you are out there and have done or are doing this… let me know about it. If i can help, great. If that help is just telling people about it… that’s great too.

17 thoughts on “An open letter to farmers wanting to sell me stuff grown on PEI

  1. Thanks peter. I think i was using a website where someone had copy/paste-d that info. All we need now is “and now we’re open” info and a way to update. checking on funding.

  2. Hi Dave,

    Anything I can do to help by way of advice, I’d be happy to do so. I’m currently doing my Masters research on local food systems and am looking at regions that have fairly well-developed systems. Kingston’s local food locator is great:

    http://fooddowntheroad.ca/online/locator.php

    I’m not sure if it’s updated regularly though – it was created by the local chapter of the National Farmer’s Union when they had funding, but funding has dried up. I think finding someone who’s able to maintain and update the site will be the biggest challenge, but certainly a worthwhile one!

    reach me at: shannoncourtney@hotmail.com any time or pass my info along to anyone else that might need some input/brainstorming help

  3. That’s a really great offer everyone! I’ll certainly give you a holler once i get a sense of what we can get done here. I’m particularly interested in the ‘WHEN’ of all of this. It’s fine to tell me that there is a hog producer somewhere… but most small places aren’t going to have stuff all the time. They’ll need to contact people when they’re products are available.

    If we could get that done… we’d be golden.

  4. I would be interested in exploring the options as well – we did a group project/presentation on this type of business model as part of our MBA at UPEI.

    Sincerely,
    Scott Wilson

  5. This sounds awesome, Dave.

    We’re in a similar, but perhaps more limited position. We just moved here a couple of months ago and know very few people here, but at least we do have the Spring Street Farmer’s market within walking distance. It’s been wonderful so far, but it’s only once per week and it does mean hauling our butts out of bed on the early side (for us) if we want to make sure that the things we want aren’t sold out. Additionally, we don’t always know what will be available from week to week. So, while we’ve done very well with it and are quite pleased, it’s a little bit of a crap shoot. :)

    Our extra complication is that we don’t drive. We can’t zip around from place to place picking up some eggs here and mushrooms there. Are there others facing this limitation as well? I realize that farms don’t want to get in the delivery business, but maybe if they can combine forces on the website then they can pool resources and offer some kind of delivery, even if it’s dropping off to one central pick up location in various cities. It’s a lot easier for us to take a cab to and from one location when we know that the order we’ve placed will be waiting for us. Just another thought to add to the mix.

    Thanks again.

  6. I think something like this would be very useful, and as a web developer I would be happy to help out if you need a hand.

    That said I do not share your frustration with the string of phone calls system. Getting to know your community is an important part of a local food system and while it can sometimes be frustrating, it is also very rewarding when you find a great supplier after some time spent looking, thrill of the hunt so to speak :) Further given that no one ever recommends you call someone that they dislike, you end up with some high quality contacts that you keep going back to year after year. Give it some more time and enjoy it for what it is, rather then focusing on just the product outcome.

  7. Hi Ken,

    I’m glad that this system works for you and I can see how many people would find it rewarding. I have three concerns with it.

    1. I don’t like the way it scales. If dozens of people are calling the farmers that might make for a nice system… Do you think this will work if there are hundreds?

    2. Your system restricts us to those people who are involved in local foods for the community aspect. While i think community if vital, some people just want it for the freshness, or the environmental advantages and not for the community. I think they should be able to do this as well.

    3. Your system makes it much harder for new people and first time visitors to buy local. If buying local is something i have to ‘earn’ through the phone tag system you describe, your setting a bar to purchasing that makes sense for community, but might not appeal to a farmer who has two weeks to sell their produce and wants as many local clients as they can get.

    Your web development offer is gratefully accepted. We’ll know more about where we’re going with development by the end of the weekend. I’m thinking of having an impromptu web discussion among some devel folks, if your interested, some me your contact details through the email box above.

  8. I’m not really answering as many of these comments as I should be, they’re all valuable. Thanks for the input, i’ll be contacting people as soon as i can, and will be posting stuff on http://peicsa.ca by the end of the weekend.

  9. Hi Dave,

    Please check us out at FarmsReach.com. I think it may be the kind of scalable platform you’re looking for. We’re currently only in the States, but we will expand eventually!

    Melanie

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