Farmstand Local Foods: Addressing barriers to small-scale farmers through distribution efforts

Farmstand Local Foods is an organization that links urban commercial customers to a diverse range of local ingredients through the use of a modern, convenient ordering and delivery system. Farmstand focuses on facilitating and maintaining connections between producers and consumers to demonstrate the value and importance of viable local farms.

The Local Food team interviewed Austin Becker, Farmstand Local Foods manager, to better understand how Farmstand serves small-scale farmers through farm-to-restaurant connections and distribution efforts.

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Austin Becker, Farmstand Local Foods manager

“Farmstand is a micro-distribution company that serves Washington growers,” said Becker. “We focus primarily on serving western Washington growers in the Sammamish, Snohomish, and Snoqualmie valleys.

Farmstand was created from an opportunity we found while developing the Puget Sound Food Hub,” said Becker. “I worked with the Hub and noticed that some farms were growing exponentially but other farms faced disproportionate challenges due to development pressures. Farmstand was created when we sat down to figure out a way to help farmers create viable sales channels in the face of these pressures so they can keep working on their lands.”

Becker said a major barrier to small farms is providing wholesale product to buyers.

“If a farm is too small to provide buyers the volume of produce they need to serve customers, buyers are hesitant to work them,” he said. “We work with farms that are smaller but relatively all the same size, scale, and use similar growing practices. During our first year, we worked with 25 farmers and now that number is closer to 35 to 50, which provides many opportunities for Farmstand to expand and help more small farms.”

Farmstand works through auxiliary drop-off points, which are locations strategically placed in western Washington to allow farmers to drive between half a mile to a maximum of 10 miles to deliver products to these sites.

“To paint a picture of our process, buyers place orders through an online sales platform” said Becker. “Everything the buyers choose is communicated to farmers on a consolidated pick list so they know what they need to harvest. Buyers place orders on a twice-weekly deadline, farmers harvest and pack their received orders the morning after order deadlines, drop off their products at the auxiliary sites, and then Farmstand will pick up their products that evening, sort the products by buyer, and deliver to wholesale customers the next day. A high percentage of products are harvest and delivered within a 24 hour period.”

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Farmstand prepares local produce for delivery

Becker said this process is mutually beneficial to farmers and restaurants.

“Restaurants can access the produce, dairy, meat, eggs, and more from many local farms without having to invoice each individual farm. Farmers don’t have to travel long distances to deliver their products, and spend more time on-farm growing food.”

“Currently, Farmstand has a $100 minimum order for buyers, which can be hard to reach from one small farm alone. However, when many farms offer their products on one platform, it is easier for chefs and food buyers at all scales to support locally grown food in an efficient manner,” Becker said.

“Buyers have access to products from multiple farms so farmers can pool their product offerings without having to make small, cumbersome deliveries to the customer. Farmstand takes care of the logistics – the sorting, the consolidation, the delivery – to minimize barriers for farmers for which completing the delivery and sales process is a challenge. Our aim is to save everyone time and money,” he said.

One of Farmstand’s main goals is to take trucks off of the road and fill up the trucks that are on the road with products to maximize efficiencies for all parties involved.

“There are some farmers that have a great direct sale process,” said Becker. “Farmstand can be good for producers who have limited sales channels. We want to maximize the volume of wholesale product moving from farmlands to Seattle’s commercial kitchens and food retailers.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to make food distribution easier for farmers,” he said. “We’re trying to provide additional options to make the farm-to-table process easier and more affordable.”

“If chefs are new to the area or are unaware of the seasonality of local crops, we’ll sit down with them and provide them with the tools they need to buy as much local product as they can,” said Becker.

“We might suggest offering a kale Caesar salad in midwinter, as it’s more likely in season rather than romaine. Once chefs are aware of the simple changes they can make to increase their use of local products, they are often eager to change their menus to reflect what’s in season,” he said.

In addition, some institutions will only take products from distributors and instead of direct from local farms. Farmstand seeks to help create new local purchasing opportunities for this institutions by aggregating supply to better reach necessary volumes.

“We run a Farm-to-Table program with funding from the Sweetened Beverage Tax,” said Becker. “Grant funds are made available to site directors and cooks at childcare centers, which allows them to purchase and prepare locally grown food to area children.

Becker said Farmstand is also starting work with food banks.

“Overall, we’re trying to help institutions access as much local food as possible.”


All images are courtesy of Farmstand Local Foods.

Visit Farmstand Local Foods’ website for more information.

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