By CYRUS LEVESQUE
ADDISON COUNTY — The winter months, when fields are covered with snow, have always been lean times for farmers. While some who till the lands simply tighten their belts, a few Addison County growers have banded together to create a new online farmers market to reach customers at a time of year not usually associated with fresh, locally produced food.
“Customers are coming fairly quickly,” said Bay Hammond, whose family owns the Doolittle Farm in Shoreham.
The Doolittle Farm joined with seven other Addison County farms to launch the Addison County Locally Grown Web site, which went live at the beginning of March.
This time of year, well outside the growing season for fruits and vegetables, most of the products at the online farmers market are meat, dairy and baked goods. In addition to helping farmers, Hammond said the market will strengthen the local foods movement, which has sometimes struggled in the winter months.
“There are a lot of local products that aren’t vegetables,” Hammond said. “The local movement gets pushed through the summer, but it really needs to be year-round.”
In addition to Doolittle, the other farms selling their products online are Singing Cedars Farmstead in Orwell, Ledge Hill Farm in Weybridge, Kent Ridge Orchards in Cornwall, Camomile Blue in Ripton, New Leaf Organics in Monkton, Crawford Family Farm in Whiting and Boundbrook Farm (which is affiliated with Good Companion Bakery) in Ferrisburgh.
Items currently for sale range from kielbasa and leg of lamb to lip balm and scoured wool.
The way the market works is this: Customers create an account at the Web site www.addisoncounty.locallygrown.net. Every other week the site hosts a sale period when customers can place orders from Sunday to Tuesday. They pick up their orders at American Flatbread in Middlebury — near the site of the open-air farmers’ market that operates during the warmer months — on Thursday. Orders are paid for in person rather than online.
Addison County Locally Grown is part of LocallyGrown.Net, a network of online farmers markets that was created five years ago by Eric Wagoner of the state of Georgia, a Web designer with a passion for farming — or maybe a farmer with a hobby of Web design. Addison County Locally Grown pays for market expenses with a 3 percent market surcharge on customer bills, and growers pay LocallyGrown.Net 3 percent of their receipts to support the service.
Suzanne Young of Singing Cedars Farmstead likes that the Web site lets farms do business directly with customers in the area. According to Young, members of the Localvores movement have helped them get set up online. “We’re farming, and there’s only so much we can do in terms of making things happen, so the Localvores were a huge help,” she said.
For Young, the online farmers market is still a relatively small part of her farm’s revenue — she has done about $100 of business since the online market was created. And most of the growers participating in the local online farmers market will continue to sell their wares at traditional open-air markets during the summer and fall.
But Young was optimistic that the Addison County Locally Grown Web site would grow.
“The potential, I think, is really huge,” she said.