December 27, 2010

Group grows winter business with online farmers market

Four farms work together to offer a wider variety of products for pre-order in two-week cycles.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

A group of farms in Cape Elizabeth is creating an online winter farmers market that draws on their products and those from other Maine growers.

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Mary Ellen Chadd of Green Spark Farm adds a dozen eggs to a crate of produce for a customer taking part in the Cape SoPo Winter Share online program. She was filling orders at the Jordan Farm on Wells Road in Cape Elizabeth.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Penny Jordan and her sister, Pam Butterfield, make sure online orders are filled and charged to customers correctly at Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth. More information is available on the Cape SoPo Winter Share Facebook page.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Cape SoPo Winter Share got its start when the farmers from the William H. Jordan Farm and Green Spark Farm started talking about their winter plans. They enlisted Alewive's Brook Farm as well as South Paw Farm in Unity, which they are treating as an honorary Cape Elizabeth farm for the effort.

The new venture isn't run like traditional community-supported agriculture, in which customers buy shares of a farm's crop in advance. Instead, customers shop online without any long-term commitment for the season. They can place orders for any two-week cycle, choosing the types and quantities of items they want.

The farmers assemble the orders and have them ready for pickup at the Jordan Farm on Wells Road in Cape Elizabeth or the American Legion Hall on Broadway in South Portland.

Customers pay when they pick up. A 7 percent fee is added to cover costs of assembling the orders and to pay for the software.

Cape SoPo Winter Share adapts ideas that some farmers already use -- like e-mail to connect with customers and facilitate orders -- but is creating its own model.

"We're actually a group of four different farms, working together kind of like a cooperative to offer a wider variety of products for pre-order online," said Mary Ellen Chadd of Green Spark Farm.

E-mails go out to customers to let them know about the ordering period for each cycle. Ideas for how to use the available products are included.

Customers can now choose from a selection of winter storage vegetables like onions, rutabagas and cabbage, and others that are still being pulled from the field, like kale and parsnips.

Other produce includes apples and frozen blueberries. Seafood, meat, eggs and dairy products are also available. So are bread mixes, pickles, jams, dressings and sauces.

Penny Jordan of the Jordan Farm said the online store shares its approach with her family's farmstand, which augments and complements the farm's offerings with items from other farms.

"I want people to understand the breadth and depth of the products that are available in the state of Maine. If this is a vehicle to do that, that will have met my expectations," she said.

Cape SoPo Winter Share is an experiment, one that the farmers hope will provide useful information about winter supply and demand.

Chadd said it's helpful to know the demand in advance, so time isn't wasted picking and preparing crops that won't sell.

Jordan said it can help her farm determine what it should produce and how much.

The first cycle netted 126 orders. It wasn't yet clear how many there would be for the second.

More than 400 people have signed up to receive alerts.

Jordan believes the online farmers market has the potential to be year-round. Demand was strong enough in the first cycle that the farmers have already outgrown their first ordering system -- a simple one relying on Google Docs, Jordan said.

A new system created by Jeremy Bloom, a web producer and a new farmer, is now up and running.

More information about the program -- including separate links for orders to be picked up in Cape Elizabeth and South Portland -- is available on the Cape SoPo Winter Share Facebook page.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

 

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