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Jonesborough grown: Online option helps sustain, promote local farmers

April 24th, 2014 1:51 pm by Max Hrenda

Jonesborough grown: Online option helps sustain, promote local farmers

Jonesborough resident Nina Gampe collects the produce she ordered online from the Jonesborough Locally Grown website. (Max Hrenda/Johnson City Press)

Although it’s still early in the year for some of the area’s farmer’s markets, thanks to the efforts of a local nonprofit, some of the area’s residents haven’t had to wait to get their hands on fresh, locally grown foods.

On Wednesday afternoon at the Jonesborough Visitors Center, for the final time this season, local farmers delivered foods to customers who had already purchased the items online via Jonesborough Locally Grown.

For the past five years, JLG — a non-profit aimed at supporting local farmers and increasing access to locally grown food — has facilitated the online forum, which provides shoppers with an itemized list of goods, complete with pictures and the name of the farm that supplied them. According to JLG Executive Director Karen Childress, the online marketplace was established to help farmers through what can, at times, be tough winter months leading up to the opening of the Jonesborough Farmer’s Market.

“Instead of having the farmer’s market shut down completely, (the website) keeps it going,” Childress said.

John Malayter, who, along with his wife, Elizabeth, operates JEM Farm in Rogersville, has participated in the online marketplace for two years. Before that, he said his farm — and his sales — struggled in the winter months.

“Primarily, we are a farmer’s market-driven business,” Malayter said. “But we knew that people still wanted to buy things throughout the winter season. That was a great way to do that online with Locally Grown.”

This year, Malayter said, JEM Farm earned anywhere from $150 to $200 per week through participating in the online marketplace, money that may not have been available to him otherwise.

“It (the online marketplace) really saved our butts throughout the winter,” he said.

In addition to the Malayters, Childress said the online vendors, in general, have benefited from their participation.

“It has been strong all winter long this year,” she said.

In fact, according to Debbie Kruse, who manages the Jonesborough Farmer’s Market, the 2013-14 season has proven to be the website’s most profitable.

“Online has been fabulous,” Kruse said. “(Tuesday) is the last market, and we’ve hit the highest dollar value – in sales – that we’ve had all winter. We’ve had a dynamic market.”

While the Malayters and other vendors are earning upward of $100 per week through the online marketplace, according to Childress, those types of earnings were not commonplace in the website’s early days. During the market’s startup period in the fall of 2009, Childress said, there were 10 farmers participating, and sales, in some cases, would yield somewhere around $10 per week.

“It started out really, really, really small,” Childress said. “Now I think there’s more like 14 or 15 (vendors), and some are earning several hundred dollars (per week).”

In addition to the increased earnings, however, the online ordering system — and the revenue it facilitates — can also provide farmers with an opportunity to expand their business.

”If we could be guaranteed a certain amount of money every week online, it helps us grow, and helps us become more of a 12-month operation, rather than just a six-month operation,” Malayter said.

Although the online ordering system will be inactive until October, the Jonesborough Farmer’s Market will reopen for business on May 3. The market will be set up at 105 Courthouse Square, and will operate from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday. Those looking for more immediate access to locally grown food can visit the Johnson City Farmer’s Market, which began its season on April 19. The Johnson City market is located in the parking lot at 500 S. Roan St., and operates from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday.

Those interested in learning more about Jonesborough Locally Grown can do so by visiting its website at jonesborough.locallygrown.net.

Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda.

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