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Local and In Orbit

March 26, 2009 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

New markets call for new approaches.

One challenge facing the new good food sector is making the purchase of local, sustainably grown food more affordable and convenient without squeezing farmers out of business. Many entrepreneurs are trying to find a way around the big-box, mass-market model that has produced tons of cheap food but shuts out many smaller farms.

One of them is Local Orbit. This online market place—part eBay, part Amazon, part Craigslist—is still in its pilot stages. But it could revolutionize how farmers sell, and how consumers shop for, local food.

That’s because it has something for everyone, says co-developer Erika Block: “Local Orbit makes it easier for farmers, other food producers, and independent retailers to do what they need to do (compete in a big-box, global food world) while at the same time providing the convenience, information, and all-in-one service that the typical consumer wants.”

Here’s how it works:

Retailers: A local independent retailer, like a family-owned grocery store, signs up to be the place where the farms and food businesses drop off their local food orders. The retailer then gains a group of potentially regular customers who may buy other things at the store, such as non-local pineapples and peanuts.

Sellers: Farms and food businesses promote their wares at the local online Local Orbit site; every site is regionally based and managed. They also use a bunch of Local Orbit’s back-office, online services, such as built-in databases that help them manage inventory, gather helpful market statistics, and export data for accounting purposes.

Buyers: Consumers place orders weekly through the site, which provides information about each participating farm’s products. The site has many of the features online shoppers expect, like a shopping cart, payment and order processing, product reviews, and buying preferences. “If a customer has said they prefer only Michigan tomatoes, then the Michigan tomato will come up first, ahead of the Indiana tomato,” Ms. Block said.

Local Orbit starts its pilot run in the spring of 2009. To learn more, visit http://www.localorb.it/.

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