The newly-launched AFM Online – an ordering service offered by Antigonish Farmers’ Market (AFM) producers – is starting to take root with customers.
“It is really easy,” St. F.X. student Fiona Beaton said, when asked about what appealed to her about the shopping option.
On this Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 18), she picked up a variety of items from Stephanie Cooper, who oversees the fledgling initiative.
“The prices are reasonable,” Beaton added, noting she can also continue her goal of buying organic.
There is also convenience, with Beaton pointing out the weekly Saturday morning market does not necessarily work for students.
“This is such a great option,” she said.
Beaton added her housemates have also accessed the service.
The weekly online service accepts orders from Wednesday, at 7 p.m., to Monday, at the same time.
“Simply select from the array of local offerings and pick up your order the following Wednesday, between 4 and 7 p.m., at the Antigonish Farmers’ Market,” Cooper explained.
Each order is custom made.
“Customers aren’t picking up mystery boxes. They get exactly what they ordered,” she noted.
Cooper said they started taking orders Aug. 28, with the first pick-up day coming on the following Wednesday (Sept. 4).
On this third pick-up day, between customer visits, she talked about the initiative and its goals.
“It is growing,” she said.
Cooper noted more than 100 customers have registered and created an account.
“Now, we need to get more and more to start ordering,” Cooper said.
She added they also want to add more producers, while keeping current ones on board. There are 12 “active” producers, noting the immediate goal of reaching 15.
“And, from there, we want to grow more and more,” Cooper said.
The current producer line-up is an eclectic one, offering prepared meals, vegetables, honey, maple products, dairy, meat and produce.
“It is another avenue to promote the market,” Annette Tarrant, of Phyllis’ Kitchen, said as she arranged some of the baked goods she sells to customers.
She added she is 100 per cent behind anything that promotes the market and its producers.
“I think it can grow a lot,” Tarrant said, noting the growth in online grocery store sales after they launched.
Margaret Cornect of Cornect Family Farm, one of the original farmers’ market producers, described the online option as “the next step” in its development.
“There is so much potential,” she said.
As for the advantages to harvesters – along with expanding their exposure and customer base – there is a level of certainty; they know how much they need to provide for each customer order.
“It is guaranteed sales,” Cooper said.
As for the ‘broader’ goals for the service, she said “we want more people shopping locally.”
“With that, we also need more products to meet what we hope will be a growing demand,” Cooper added, reiterating the focus on increasing producer numbers and their capacities.
And, when it comes to what she called the “big picture,” these initiatives will help producers ready for increased demand as they make a transition into a new (and larger) building.
“We want the farmers’ market to be ready to move to that next level,” Cooper said.
When asked about the feedback she has received regarding the online initiative, Cooper said a common phrase is ‘this is great.’
“It goes along with the way in which a lot of people are shopping, in general,” she added.
Cooper noted it is a “modern approach,” one more commonly found in urban areas, which people are welcoming to Antigonish.
When it comes to target demographics for the shopping option, she mentioned “busy families.”
“They may not have time to make it to the Saturday market, or it may be challenging to bring the children and pick up what you need,” Cooper said, in explaining the appeal to that group.
There is also the university demographic, one that is accustomed to doing a lot of their shopping online.
With that said, she noted, the online service can be an option for anyone.
“You know what you are getting,” Cooper said of the custom-order approach.
Plenty of options
Along with AFM Online, there are a couple other ways in which customers can pick-up products from producers.
The ‘mini market’ that takes place, from 4 to 7 p.m., each Wednesday in the Eastern Nova Scotia Exhibition (ENSE) building on James Street, will continue until Oct. 16.
While the flagship weekly Saturday market, in the same location from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., will continue until Dec. 21.
For information about the Antigonish Farmers’ Market, including AFM Online and a ‘meet your producer’ page, visit antigonishfarmersmarket.ca