This e-storefront, Siskiyou Farm Co., will let shoppers buy eggs, meat cuts from farmers
Shopping for local products in Siskiyou County is starting to resemble a shopping experience on any number of e-commerce sites.
“I always kind of describe it like, Etsy for Siskiyou farm and food,” remarked Niki Brown, program director for agriculture and innovation at Siskiyou Economic Development, describing the Siskiyou FarmCo. project, developed by Siskiyou County EDC as part of an effort to grow agriculture and food-based local businesses.
Siskiyou Farm Co. is largely a web platform where local ranchers, farmers, and other makers of food items can list and sell their products. The platform functions as a marketing and e-payments site all rolled into one. Today, about 20 local businesses have products listed on the site.
“As the economic development council we’re really interested in working with our agriculture and food based businesses to expand market opportunities, and create additional sources of revenue, expand businesses, create jobs, and create this kind of support system for our agriculture,” said Brown.
For now, the site is still in a beta testing mode, with about 150 shoppers regularly using the platform to review products, selecting items for their “cart,” and then showing up at pick-up locations set up in Mount Shasta, Yreka or Fort Jones. Siskiyou Farm Co. is expected to go live for anyone to shop, early next year.
“It's exciting to have a new outlet to either customers who aren't aware of what we're doing, or are outside the valley and don't often make it into Etna,” said Kate Newgent, farm manager for Rockside Ranch in Etna. Rockside sells organic eggs ($8.50 a dozen) and pork products on the platform. Some of the items offered by Rockside Ranch include one-pound packs of bacon for $16, or a bone-in shoulder roast for $48.
“We're excited about Siskiyou Farm Co. and the opportunity to provide our products to more customers within our local community,” she added. “We have a farm store here on site at the ranch with store members mainly coming from within Scott Valley.”
The project is currently being funded largely with the help of a three-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, which helps to pay for the kinds of back-of-the-house tech costs associated with supporting the platform, as well as the logistics involved with organizing orders and arranging the pick-up locations.
The economic council has identified a number of barriers that stand in the way of local businesses offering a direct-to-consumer profile. One of them is managing customer service, marketing, fulfillment and distribution, said Brown.
“Our goal at Siskiyou Farm Co. is to put our team at the EDC to take care of those four barriers,” she explained. “So they can confidently enter into the marketplace and say, I don’t have to deal with marketing, customer service, distribution, all of these logistical challenges. We can just make that easier for them.”
Marrying e-retail — an increasingly familiar and user-friendly space for shoppers — with the unique level of local products is an example of the economic development innovation rural communities can turn to as they search for new market opportunities, say experts.
Rural areas “have real opportunity to succeed by delivering distinctive products and services so that they become price makers,” said Poppy Davis, a business and policy consultant for non-profits and local governments working in healthy food and farming. Davis, of C2C Consulting, was speaking at the Siskiyou County Economic Summit, an event organized by the EDC, earlier this month.
“Nothing works if the farmer-rancher is not profitable in the long run,” said Davis. “Business models that worked in the past have been under increasing pressure.”
The Farm Co. site molds itself to today’s shopping expectations, said Newgent.
“While a personal, face to face interaction is still perhaps the most impactful way to connect with your consumers, digital platforms are often where people are looking when they want to engage in a new community or stretch into new eating habits or just see what's out there,” she said.
Regina Hanna operates the Crown H Cattle Company in Fort Jones, specializing Beltie beef, and sells largely online, shipping to locations out of the area. However, the Siskiyou Farm Co. “has been a great way to push some product that I hadn’t had a chance to sell online,” said Hanna, speaking at the recent Siskiyou County Economic Summit. “Some of my best and repeat customers are actually from Scott Valley and from Weed.”
Prices for a number of items will likely appear slightly higher than when purchasing directly. This is largely to cover the fees attached to organizing the logistics around pick-up, drop-off, cold storage and other requirements, as well as supporting the e-payments platform, provided by Stripe.
“Every farm business that sells food, and food business, locally, can create, basically, like a storefront within Siskiyou Farm Co.,” said Brown. “Local customers can go just to one place to shop all of Siskiyou food. And have it be year-round with convenient pickup locations through Siskiyou County.”