Online farmers market offers fresh alternative in Schoharie County
SCHOHARIE COUNTY Tender green zucchini, yellow summer squash and vine-ripened, freshly picked tomatoes are just a few of the items from Schoharie Valley farms available for people to pick up in Cobleskill on Friday.
But this week’s offerings are only available today and tomorrow — orders are due just before midnight Wednesday.
And there’s no guessing what will be available — there’s a full website detailing items and requests are simply made online at www.schohariefresh.com.
More than 20 Schoharie County farmers and producers are taking part in the online farmers market “Schoharie Fresh,” an initiative aimed at making it easier for people to get wholesome local foods while giving farmers another outlet for their goods.
Now in its second year, Schoharie Fresh has seen revenues for producers more than double since last year’s pilot program, said Jason Evans, an assistant professor of agricultural business management at SUNY-Cobleskill.
Often, farmers load up a truck and hope they’re bringing the right quantity of the items people are most likely to want.
“There’s a lot of a guessing game to that,” said Evans, who is coordinating the ordering work with the help of an intern.
The program was put together as part of a five-year Creating Healthy Places grant from the state Health Department.
It brings the expertise of Cornell Cooperative Extension together with that of the college and the Schoharie County Planning and Development Department, all of whom are trying to make it easier for farmers to get their goods to market.
The single drop-off point at the college and precise orders make it easier for farmers and producers to bring exactly what’s to be sold.
“This way, every Friday when they drop off their food to us they know exactly what to bring,” Evans said.
The market can also give some farmers a break in terms of the time and labor it takes to man a farm stand and hope everything sells.
Some people take a ride out in the country to a farm stand just because of the ambience, while others want to chat with the producer if possible, Evans said.
But it could be inconvenient or even impossible for some folks to drive out to the farm stand, so a single location on the bus route in Schoharie County is making it easier to get local products into the hands of consumers.
“This online mechanism at least addresses the convenience problem. One time a week, you know exactly what you’re picking up,” Evans said.
The program is also expanding opportunities for those who can sell items year-round.
Evans said the intention is to keep the market running about 10 months a year, with off-season being December and January.
In addition to fresh produce and herbs, producers involved so far are offering fresh artisanal cheeses, maple syrup by the half-gallon and wildflower honey by the one-pound jar.
Farmer Nancy Chichester said the farmers market season pretty much dries up after the first frost, so the online ordering process creates another market for her Nagimore Farm’s beef, pork, chicken and lamb.
“It’s a nice outlet for us and it keeps the revenues up throughout the year. The produce does dwindle down its availability because once frost hits a lot of things are done unless somebody’s got a greenhouse,” she said.
She said her Warnerville farm is close enough to SUNY-Cobleskill to make it worth the drive to drop off goods.
“We’re pleased with the start,” Chichester said.
Evans at SUNY-Cobleskill said customers appear to be waiting to the last minute to place their online orders, but it’s clear the season of local, farm-fresh items is in its prime right now.
The market handled about $900 in business last week and $1,300 two weeks ago.
And word is getting out, he said, among the producer community.
“We have so many more participating this year than last year,” he said.
The list of available items continues to grow. It includes maple butter, baked goods such as lavender shortbread cookies, loaded zucchini bread, buttermilk pancake mix, red currant jelly and gift packs with a variety.
Evans said he’s expecting a variety of berries to begin popping up on the list of available items, and melons should be coming soon as well.
A brief registration is all that’s required to get started.
The ordering process is similar to that of other online stores, and consumers are asked to bring a check or cash to the Friday pickup, as the program works on the honor system.
Evans said organizers are working toward approval to accept other forms of payment in the future.
“We just want to make it as easy as possible for both customers and producers,” Evans said.