Online market brings small growers' local delicacies to wider community

2020-04-19 | The Virgin Islands Daily News

April 18-- Apr. 18--ST THOMAS -- A new farmers market on St. Thomas is connecting small growers and makers of local products with customers looking for a variety of goods in a one-stop online shop.

Farmer Shelli Brin said she has been working in agriculture professionally for years, "so I'm aware of a lot of different farmers market models out there," and building a website-based market seemed like a great option for the Northside of St. Thomas.

The site, hosted through the "Locally Grown" online farmers market system, "works really well when you have a large diversity, like you have a lot of growers with a little bit," Brin said. "The market is really good for backyard farmers, homesteaders, people who are growing for themselves but have excess and don't really have a formal market to move it through."

The project is not affiliated with the V.I. Agriculture Department, and is being hosted by Que Sera Farms.

"This is a local, farmer-led initiative to respond to a rapidly evolving food supply chain affected by the pandemic," Brin said.

She emphasized that buying locally- grown food helps bolster the territory's economy, reduces environmental impacts, creates jobs, and provides health benefits for the wider community.

"This is local farms adjusting to an electronic form of commerce to provide a local, secure movement of locally-grown produce in the territory," Brin said.

More than a dozen businesses have already joined the site, including Sea La Vie Farm in Hull Bay, Greenridge Guavaberry Farms in Bordeaux and Organic West Farm.

"The online market for the customers is a great experience because they can shop at their own pace, and they can shop from several farms all at once and put it all in their shopping cart, and just pay when you arrive," Brin said.

She said the market has chosen to have customers pay by cash or check at pickup to avoid cybersecurity concerns.

Customers can shop online between 8 a.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Tuesday, after which growers are notified of the number of items that sold so they can harvest the correct amount and deliver it for pickup. The first two online orders are free, after which customers are asked to pay an annual membership fee of $25 per household to help provide farm tours, educational programs, and cover overhead costs.

The pickup location is at Hideaway Farm at Hull Bay from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, and customers can drive through and quickly collect their order without getting out of their vehicle.

Brin and other farmers at the pickup wear masks and practice social distancing protocol during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and are offering locally-made hand sanitizer from Arc Vodka for sale through the site.

"A lot of farms are going through their own experiences with dealing with the virus impact on their markets," Brin said, adding farmers are having to find new ways to move their products.

"When we plant food, we plant like months in advance for our anticipated customers already lined up," and the sharp decline in demand due to the pandemic means a lot of farmers are sitting on fresh produce they have nowhere to sell.

The online market, opened two weeks ago, offers an easy way for customers to access that supply. Brin said she's looking for more local producers and growers to join.

Farmers must not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides to participate, and the items "has to be locally grown," according to Brin.

"For example, if someone wants to sell a value-added product like tamarind stew, the tamarinds have to be from the island. They can't be from the Pacific," she said.

Available products change weekly based on supply, and recent offerings have included fresh arugula, herbs, cut flowers, eggs, coffee, bananas, lemongrass slips, aloe, pigeon pea seeds, coco plums and more.

For more information or to place an order for pickup, visit STT.LocallyGrown.net.

Farmers and local producers who wish to participate in the market are invited to email Shelli Brin at queserafarmer@gmail.com.

-- Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email scarlson@dailynews.vi.