VERNON PARISH, La. (CLEDA) - A family-owned farm in rural Vernon Parish has opened an online farm store that allows residents a convenient way to select fresh, locally grown produce and have it delivered to their front doors.
From the Ground farm, based in Hornbeck, opened its store in September and joins a growing number of farmers nationwide that offer produce online. The online farm store concept benefits the region in two ways. It increases people’s access to healthy food and boosts the economy by helping local farmers grow their sales, according to the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.
“Online shopping is the new normal. Consumers increasingly demand convenience and ease of access for shopping; local, farm fresh food is no different,” said Bahia Nightengale, director of CLEDA’s Central Louisiana Local Food Initiative. “Online farm stores with real-time inventory are both a great tool for farmers and an increase in access for consumers; just one more thing we can do from our phone or computer. In rural areas like Central Louisiana, these online tools help us shrink distances between remote farms and communities that want farm fresh food.”
Other Central Louisiana farms offer bulk subscription services online. From the Ground’s online store sells individual items for customizable delivery, with items updated weekly as crops come in from the fields.
From the Ground owners Fredie and Patti Manes started their online store after trying to find a more efficient way to sell produce from their organic, no-till operation. Until then, they were primarily selling at farmers markets and delivering to a core group of families in the Vernon Parish area. While farmers markets can be a great way to bring products to communities, the Maneses needed a better and more efficient way to sell their yield.
“The first few years we were farming, we just didn’t have enough people in our town and at the farmers markets. We just didn’t have enough of a customer base,” Patti Manes said. “We kept trying to find the right fit. We are so remote and removed from our customers that there had to be a better way.”
At an event at Fort Polk, they displayed a poster asking if anyone was interested in placing delivery orders for fresh vegetables. Almost 60 people signed up. The couple now had customers, but it needed to find the best way to handle orders.
“The first week we did it by email, but then we realized we needed something more organized,” Patti said. Fortunately, they were contacted by the owners of Local Line, a Canadian company that created software specifically for food suppliers who sell direct to customers.
From the Ground customers can easily make their selections, pay and leave an address for delivery. Free delivery is offered in communities along U.S. Highway 171 from Hornbeck to DeRidder. Customers living just outside the immediate delivery area can choose to pay a delivery fee or pick up their product at the Leesville Farmers Market.
Local Line provides Patti and Fredie with delivery routes, saving them time trying to map out the routes themselves. Instead, they can focus on filling the weekly orders, which entails cutting fresh produce the morning of delivery to ensure freshness and tastiness.
In the first weeks after opening its online store, the couple has already seen an increase in sales. While they plan to sell excess produce at local farmers markets, the couple is able to cut back on some, which allows them to spend more time on the farm. They recently obtained a grant to purchase two high tunnels, which will allow them to expand production. “The response has been great. People really enjoy the convenience and are very appreciative,” Patti said. Customers say they appreciate getting produce that was cut that morning from a reputable source, and they also enjoy supporting their local economy.
“In community-based food systems knowing who raised your food and how it has been handled from seed to plate is what creates the highest value, and that transparency is what drives customers to farms like From the Ground,” Nightengale said. “Having their own online store, in addition to attending farmers markets, allows farmers to provide the highest quality food at the best prices for customers across the region.”
Patti and Fredie Manes returned to their home parish after retirement. They opened From the Ground in 2014 and credit CLEDA with part of the farm’s success. CLEDA offers a variety of programs designed to help the farming community. This includes farmer and rancher training programs, Foodapalooza, the Louisiana Food Fellows Program, the Central Louisiana Farmers Market Development Task Force and expert technical assistance for farm-based businesses.
“CLEDA believes that people can prosper in vibrant, thriving communities and part of that is making communities desirable places to live, work and raise a family. We know that a community-based food system is a desirable community characteristic that people are looking for when they are deciding where to live and where to raise their families, and so we help our farmers grow farm-based businesses, which in turn supports thriving communities, which in turn helps us prosper,” Nightengale said.