Changes in the local food market, 2020 edition

First the positive!

I was talking to one farm who was an early adopter of Harvie this Fall and she told me that they are seeing lots of farms going out of business in their local area and due to Harvie, they feel like they can serve this market and plan to double their business in 2020.

That is why we built Harvie!

On the less-positive side, as the Harvie farmer noted, it feels like a lot of farms are going out business or changing business models.

Close to my home, it’s been a dispiriting few months in the local food scene here in Pittsburgh. Our largest local food distributor, Penns Corner Farm Alliance, went out of business and was taken over by a large main-line distribution company. Many local CSAs have gone out of business so we only have a few CSA farms left here. There are a few vibrant farmers markets here, but many of the markets do not have the sales volume to support medium scale farms. Despite the fact that the food scene here as far as restaurants have gotten a lot of positive press, there are very few farms growing at any scale in this metro of over 2 million people. Older farmers who have been stalwart farmers here are aging out and the younger generation is not taking over.

I’m seeing this across the country as well with many farms shutting down, moving to wholesale sales channels, and in general leaving the farm-direct sales like CSA and farmers markets.

I just got an email from the Farmers Market Federation of NY entitled “Reversing the Downward Trend” with the first line, “In recent years, farmers markets have been experiencing a loss of customer base and consequently, farmer sales.”

I can take some solace in the fact that I have been pointing this out since 2015, for example in CSA, We Have a Problem.

But now it feels like what I was predicting has happened. I feel right and sad at the same time!

Consumer buying habits have changed and in local food we have not kept up with the trends.

So is this the end of local food?

As always, yes and no.

I still believe that consumers want to buy from their local farmer. They believe that this food is fresher, healthier, tastier, and better for the environment.

However, we need to find a way to fit into the lives of our customers.

That is what I’ve been working on since 2015 when I started my research on the declining CSA numbers. This research later led to the development of our Harvie platform. I am proud of what we have done at Harvie and I believe that it is a potential future for local food. Our farmers our selling out and many reported having their best year of sales yet in 2019.

I don’t think of Harvie as “CSA software” — it’s not that. We don’t call Harvie a “CSA program”, although many of our farmers refer to their program running through Harvie a “CSA”. It is a business model for a farm that wants to serve the local consumer market in a profitable and scaleable manner. I’ve been asking this question for years: how can we make it as easy to buy from local farms as it is from Amazon Prime? At the same time we still want to keep everything that is special about farms and local food in the model. Harvie is the answer for that.

There is a market out there for farms and local food entrepreneurs who are ready to innovate, but this is a moment where doing nothing is not an option. What worked 5-10 years ago will not continue to work in the future.

We are planning a major new initiative here in Pittsburgh that I would like to tell you about over the next 6-12 months. Maybe I can inspire some of you to come along with me and bring local food to the mainstream in your local markets too!

Are you seeing the same things? What’s going on in your local market? I would love to hear your stories! If I get some interesting responses, I can do a follow up post.