An N.C. State alumnus is starting a virtual co-op and online farmers’ market, which will give Durham residents greater access to freshly grown produce.
Eric Bowen, a graduate of the College of Natural Resources in 2007, realized while traditional farmers’ markets like the ones in Durham and Raleigh bring huge benefits to their respective communities, dozens of farmers are often turned away due to a lack of space.
As a result, Bowen developed the idea of goMarket, a marketplace that will combine the convenience of online shopping with a distribution model based on community-supported agriculture, which involves a weekly stock of fresh produced that is available based on what is in season. However, unlike CSA models, the customer will have the option to select what produce will be delivered each week and products will be available from more than one farm.
According to Bowen, at a traditional farmers’ market, when farmers bring their produce onsite, they are unaware of exactly what will be sold or unsold and how much of each type of crop they will need to meet customer demand. As a result, there is often some form of waste or profit loss.
With goMarket, farmers will be able to create a profile page where they can update their inventory of produce weekly. The customers will then be given a 36-hour window to make their selections. As a result, farmers will know in advance how much of a crop needs to be harvested and the amount of spoiled food will be greatly reduced.
“From the perspective of the farmer, this is a huge advantage, because you know what you’ve sold before you even picked it,” Bowen said. “Whereas at a regular farmer’s market, you can’t control the weather or demand. If it rains, people might not even show up.”
Bowen says the strength of goMarket will be the low overhead costs associated with the project. With 85 percent of the revenue going directly toward farmers, goMarket will be financed by a 15 percent commission from customer and farmer membership fees.
Set to launch in April, Bowen has set an initial goal of 100 customers and 12 farmers “so that the farmers have enough customers, and customers have enough access to food every week.”
This method of “virtual farming” already has proven results. Before arriving in Durham, Bowen worked at Spring Valley EcoFarms in Athens, Ga., where he was development manager for a course in organic agriculture. Spring Valley is associated with the University of Georgia’s School of Ecology and emphasizes educational and research aspects of sustainable agriculture.
In Georgia, Bowen used the same software goMarket runs and was able to bring more than 100 farms together and collectively sell approximately $10,000 of produce a week using the online system.
In addition to being an advocate for fresh produce and the food revolution, Bowen is a strong advocate for finding open source solutions to solve a variety of problems facing society, including the food crisis faced in America and worldwide. As a result, Bowen is currently working on networking with farmers, entrepreneurs and food activists who believe in open source to devise shared solutions.
“All of our solutions need to be open source,” Bowen said. “If you stand to make a buck, and want to copyright everything, we’re not going to go anywhere.”