WisBusiness: LocalGrown promotes new technology to buy and sell local in Wisconsin

By Melissa Doyle

For WisBusiness.com

The term “buy local” is appearing more and more every day. Consumers across the nation are searching for fresh and healthy local products, while American farmers are looking for ways to get more bang for their buck.

Connecting those consumers and farmers through web-based technology is the goal of LocalGrown.

Scheduled to launch in 2012, a new online marketplace is changing the way farmers and consumers interact. LocalGrown is a web-based site that provides farmers easy-to-use, cost-effective tools to promote, market and sell the food they grow, and allows consumers to easily search for and purchase this food.

Based in Lake Geneva, LocalGrown aspires to help farmers promote their products as well as agriculture in general. “This is a model that we really think can benefit the farmer,” Ryan Dover, founder of LocalGrown, said. “At the end of the day, farming is the foundation of all societies. Farming is it. Food is number one. If we can’t feed people, we’re in trouble.”

Every year, Wisconsin farmers and agricultural businesses generate more than $59 billion in economic activity. However, as large as this number might seem, the actual farmers that contribute to this sum earn only 16 cents on average for each “food dollar” spent.

“Today’s farmers face a challenge when promoting their products. After talking with many local farmers, we found this is not an uncommon situation. A lot of farmers have great products, but they have a hard time marketing them,” Dover said.

By enabling farmers and producers to more easily sell their products directly to consumers, LocalGrown can dramatically increase a farmer’s income, as well as help create a market locally.

LocalGrown is benefiting more that just Wisconsin’s farmers and producers. As the “buy local” movement continues to grow, individual consumers and commercial buyers are demanding greater transparencies to the food chain.

“People want to know how their food is farmed, what the animals eat, how the livestock are treated and what chemicals were used,” said Dover. “Let alone, they want to be able to buy it and know exactly where it came from.”

Consumers have become more educated and are now aware of the drawbacks of industrial agriculture. This can include soil erosion, polluting of water systems by fertilizers and pesticides, and health risks associated with the use of chemicals and concentrated animal feeding operations. LocalGrown provides these consumers with an opportunity to “reconnect” with farmers and learn where and how their food is raised, processed and distributed.

Buying locally also significantly benefits the environment. In the United States, the average grocery store’s produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and the buyer’s home. The sources of transportation that move food products around the world burn a tremendous amount of fossil fuel, releasing carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and other pollutants that contribute to global climate change, acid rain, smog and air and sea pollution. By buying local, consumers can greatly help decrease the fuel used in transporting and distributing food.

The online marketplace at LocalGrown utilizes a “freemium” revenue model, providing basic services free of charge to all sellers and buyers.

“This is a level playing field and a plug for any farmer. The platform is open,” Dover said, “Anyone can sell on it. Anyone can buy on it. We’re trying to enable a marketplace where the market will decide what products sell, leaving it up to the choice of the consumer.”

LocalGrown is aimed at becoming a community that can benefit both the consumers and producers. Money spent directly with farmers ensures that more money stays in the community, circulating within the local economy instead of going to a business in another city, state or country. And buying directly allows farmers to earn up to 4.5 times more than through the industrial distribution process.

“When consumers chose to purchase food that hasn’t been grown locally, that food dollar is no longer staying in their community. Thus, allowing for small communities to get hurt first,” Dover said. “If you buy local, the dollar stays local.”

— Doyle is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.