The farmer's market of the future? Northeastern Ontario farmers using internet to sell locally grown food
Closure of local store prompts farmers to take innovative steps
It all started with the closure of Eat Local Sudbury, a co-operative grocery store that operated in the city's downtown core for 10 years.
James Morin, owner of Kipling Ridge Farms in Verner, said the four farms already connected through the local food initiative — Dalew Farms in Lavigne, Field Good Farms in Cache Bay, and Three Forks Farms in Warren— decided to try something new.
The farms started talking about starting their own initiative.
"We all have the same mindset and approach to how we're growing food," Morin said. "And that's based on ecological and or organic principles, and we all direct market."
Through that collaboration, Click Fork was born.
Click Fork customers can order meat, produce and even maple syrup online, with bi-weekly deliveries servicing customers in Sudbury, North Bay and Cache Bay.
It's all done through an online ordering system called Local Line.
"We raise chickens, pigs and cattle all on pasture, fed a non-GMO diet of grains as necessary as well, and we market that directly to the public in northeastern Ontario," Morin said.
"It really started from a desire to grow our own food. My wife and I had a passion for working in the kitchen, sourcing the best ingredients we could find."
"It just sort of snowballed I guess from there."
'Things change so fast'
Operating online gives the farms a wider customer base, Morin said, and ends up being more cost-effective than opening a retail store like Eat Local.
"Things change so fast in our world today and how people are accessing the products and things that they want," Morin said. "People who are selling those products have to adapt to that."
Cole Jones, CEO of Local Line, said Click Fork is the first venture on the platform that involves a group of farmers collaborating.
"This is a universal problem for small family farms, is figuring out how to get to market properly, how to control the sales, how to be a little bit more modern," Jones said. "So it's been a great solution for a lot of these families."
Jones said the four-farm package has been a "very innovative model."
"We give these folks a ton of credit for marching ahead," he said. "They're seeing some really early success so it's been really fun to watch."
He added that it's a model that's especially valuable in geographically sparse areas like the north.
"We had done a bunch of research and figured out that farmer's markets are actually not very profitable for the farmer, in most cases," Jones said.
"When we get four farms that party up on each delivery, this is of course much less expensive than them delivering it themselves."
Using Local Line, farmers pay a monthly subscription fee to use the platform. They upload their delivery information and customers, and then share the store with their customers to start accepting online orders.
Customers can add items to their online cart and then select a delivery option.
Currently, the company serves hundreds of farms in Ontario, dozens in B.C. They also have customers in the U.S. and every province except Quebec.
With files from Robin De Angelis