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Online ordering of farm products is coming

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POTSDAM — Despite his own reservations about surfing the Web, Daniel Z. Martin realized a better way of selling vegetables and other farm produce was in the smart phones and mobile devices he saw in the hands of his customers.

“I see a significant number of them with Internet access. It creates an opportunity,” Mr. Martin said. “It got me thinking we ought to do something for our stand. The other thing my mind was working on was I see a lot of people trying to make a living out of what they’re raising.”

Many local producers are on back roads, making it difficult for a buyer who, for example, wants organic carrots from one farmer, and honey from another, to make purchases.

“It’s a hard shopping experience,” Mr. Martin said.

He has established a website, www.martinsfarmstand.locallygrown.net, featuring local products that will start taking orders in early May to coincide with the opening of his family stand at Needham Road near Potsdam.

Mr. Martin and his family might not give the outward appearance of being proponents of the Internet age. They are Christians with old-style ways of doing things but they use more modern conveniences than Swartzentruber Amish, some of whom will sell at the market.

“There’s a lot of Mennonite culture in us,” Mr. Martin said. “The question in our lives is ‘what does God think? Is this a good wholesome thing to be doing?’”

Mr. Martin and members of his family are known for their creative solutions to agricultural questions. Mr. Martin invented a three-wheeled motorized harvester and his brother, Luray Z., built a solar-powered greenhouse.

Mr. Martin does not think of himself as a computer person.

“It’s a tool I’m learning how to use because it has a job to do. It’s not something you’ll find me hanging out on, on Facebook,” he said. “From a religious standpoint, I’m not adverse. I liken it to a city. There’s a lot of potential good and a lot of potential mischief, to just loiter on the street corner and see who you might meet, to loiter on your computer, it’s a little scary.”

Shoppers will be able to use the site to pick and choose what they want and have it ready for them at a once-a-week pickup time at the stand.

“This will allow you to customize what you need,” Mr. Martin said.

Ordering online allows for fresher products, a larger selection than if going to a single farm, less chance that a trip is wasted, and convenient ordering.

For producers, it will give them greater access to market and more flexibility.

Once the site is activated, buyers can put an item in their cart, just like any other online shopping experience, edit it, cancel the order or proceed to checkout. The inventory that is listed will deduct each time somebody orders, so that the producer knows how much he has to deliver.

“He can see in real time what has sold,” Mr. Martin said. “Inventory is not trapped and can be sold elsewhere.”

The system could also be an advantage for the backyard grower who does not make a living at gardening but would like to sell the occasional bumper crop of cucumbers.

Mr. Martin sometimes buys extra produce from growers he knows if chemical sprays are not used. For the online market, he will offer produce grown with conventional fertilizer and sprays, so long as they are identified as such.

“There’s a market for both. The main thing I’m going to be demanding is honesty and ethical business practices,” he said. “This is about serving us in St. Lawrence County, our little growers.”

Mr. Martin said he does not plan to solicit goods from far away, but may make an exception for certain fruit not grown in the north country, or if it is clear where the produce comes from so that the consumer can make the choice. Most of the goods offered will be local because the cost of delivery is self-limiting.

“It’s a model that could grow as big as the capacity of our parking lot,” he said. “If it gets bigger, we’ll make a bigger parking lot.”

Producers and regular buyers will pay a fee to cover Mr. Martin’s costs, which includes membership in the Locally Grown network, which provides the software package. Charging consumers a membership fee also inspires loyalty, Mr. Martin said.

The site also provides an opportunity for consumer reminders of what is in season, whether or not they buy from the Martin stand or another local producer.

“Mission accomplished,” Mr. Martin said.

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