New online tool brings farmers and chefs closer

In an effort to strengthen the agricultural economy and get more local food into area restaurants, schools and other institutions, the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) has created and launched Farmer-Chef Express, an interactive website that connects local food buyers and sellers.

The platform is straightforward, user-friendly and free. Buyers (such as restaurants) can post what they are looking for, and local food sellers (such as farmers) can post what products they have available. If a farmer in Loudoun County is selling 50-100 pounds of tomatoes, he or she can simply create a post on the website. Then, any nearby restaurants searching for tomatoes can see the seller’s post on Farmer-Chef Express and contact them directly.

“I’m excited about this,” said Patti Lou, owner of Tall Cotton Farm. “I love the format, and the web pages are easy to read and understand.”

The listings on the website outline specific details such as pricing, quantity and delivery methods. “The hope is that Farmer-Chef Express expands the supply and demand by giving people more options,” said Don Loock, agriculture and rural economy program manager for PEC.

“We expect Farmer-Chef Express to be an efficient tool to locate seasonal produce for us to use in our products,” agreed Allie Hill, owner of Homegrown Virginia, a small food processor.  

There is even an option for chefs and farmers to see posts through social media. When someone posts on the website, the information automatically pops up on the Farmer-Chef Express Twitter feed at the same time. The handle for buyers to follow is: @FarmExpressVA, and the handle for sellers to follow is: @ChefExpressVA.

“The site also provides the opportunity to create long-term relationships, which could turn into contract growing or contract buying,” said Jessica Palmer, Buy Fresh Buy Local coordinator for PEC.  

The website also has a section for surplus, seconds and gleaning, giving farmers more ways to sell or donate excess or slightly blemished products. Gleaning groups, food banks, canneries, commercial kitchens — any organization with a use for less-than-perfect produce — are encouraged to search the site and post products they are searching for.

“Anyone in Virginia, Maryland, District of Columbia, West Virginia or North Carolina is welcome to sign-up and participate,” said Palmer.

Farmer-Chef Express officially launched Tuesday (Sept. 9) with close to 50 businesses already signed-up. Buyers and sellers can participate by visiting BuyLocalVirginia.org/farmerchef. Any questions can be directed to PEC’s Jess Palmer at jpalmer@pecva.org or 434-977-2033 (ext. 24).

The website project was possible because of a grant from the Community Endowment Fund in the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and an anonymous donor.

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