Shared Harvest builds online classifieds for local producers

When the weather gets colder and conventional farmers’ markets close shop for winter, there’s a more convenient alternative to finding locally grown products.

Farm Folk/City Folk, a not-for-profit society aiming to develop a local and sustainable food system, developed websites where local producers and consumers can meet.

Called Shared Harvest, the websites are online classified ads similar to Craigslist where users can post ads or browse through their local listings for food and agricultural products.

“The idea is to eventually network the food producing regions in B.C. so we can support trade within those regions as well as between the regions,” said Erin Nichols, manager of Shared Harvest sites in B.C.

The Shared Harvest website is free to use. Listings are composed of items for sale, wanted items and food or agriculture events in your locality. The site also has automatic e-mail notification so users can sign up for alerts and be notified when an item they need is posted.

Currently, there are three Shared Harvest websites in B.C. The first website was launched in September 2010 in Metro Vancouver. Just four months after launching, the site has already grown to over 250 members. There are 65 members of the Okanagan website and 31 of the Victoria website.

“We’re hoping that this continues to grow,” said Nichols. “There’s a lot of interest in the website.”

Food activist and Kamloops Food Policy Council member Lauren Kalina said using social media and the Internet is an excellent way for producers to market products because it’s efficient advertising and it saves time.

“The local food producers are so busy growing their own food they don’t have time to do the marketing,” said Kalina. “I think that’s a real need. It’s almost an oxymoron, social media and farming, because they’re so busy they don’t have time to even return their own e-mail.”

Kalina said she hasn’t seen many local producers using social media yet.
She also thinks facilitating the exchange of goods may need some planning, especially for farmers who live in remote areas.

“From sustainability, it’s an excellent way to go except that it takes a while to get people up to speed on that,” observed Kalina.

“Let’s say there’s a farmer out in Sorrento or a farmer out in Deadman’s Creek. Are people gonna go all the way there to get it? Are they gonna come into town, have a local drop off? It’s easier when you’re in a bigger centre, you have more drop offs.”

For Dieter Dudy, owner of Thistle Farm in Kamloops, what matters is that producers and consumers are making a connection.

“What we want more than anything is to have the consumer work directly with the producer and then they decide how they want to receive the goods. For me, it will be fairly simple. You can either come to the farm, I can come to you, or you can go on our delivery program.”

“You want to be able to come and say ‘I want to deal with Sun Rivers Organics’ or ‘I want to deal with Golden Ears Farm’ or ‘I want to deal with Thistle Farm’ and have a connection with those people.”

It’s this type of connection that the Shared Harvest project is trying to achieve. “What B.C. currently has is a food production system that’s more geared to larger producers who are seeking export,” said Nichols. “What we’re trying to do with the Shared Harvest sites is to build a network so that smaller scale and medium scale farmers, restaurants, hotels and grocers can find food and sell food in the local market because local food has become such an interesting topic for the local populace and eaters are looking for good local food to put on their tables at home. So if we can support that, that’s a really good thing.”

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