Raina McManus always enjoyed her visits to the Wellesley Farmers’ Market. She loved the chance to pick out fresh produce, soak up sunlight, and have pleasant conversations with the farmers who grew her fruits and vegetables.
Still, she could only find time to make the trip a handful of times throughout the summer season.
Now, in yet another shift from traditional to digital commerce, the Wellesley resident gets her farm fresh food every week all year long with a click of a button.
Instead of inviting individual farmers to set up tables in town each week, the Wellesley Farmers’ Market partnered last fall with Farmers to You, an online, farm-to-table grocer that delivers produce from Vermont farms directly to its customers.
McManus checks off her grocery list on the website, where she can read the story behind each farm that produced her food. Then, on Thursday afternoons between 1 and 2:30 p.m., she heads to the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley Hills to pick up her order.
“I get about half of my groceries from Farmers to You now,” said McManus, whose weekly order makes up most of the of the ingredients she needs to cook her meals. “I go to Whole Foods every other week, mainly for condiments.”
The arrangement streamlines the shopping experience for customers who want to support small food producers, but are too busy to browse through a traditional farmers’ market.
“There are several things that are attractive about this system,” said John Spencer, one of the organizers of the Wellesley Farmers’ Market. “With the quality of the food, the wide variety of products, and the convenience of ordering online, it’s an excellent partnership.”
The Vermont company’s online model has not escaped the notice of Massachusetts farmers, who are looking for new ways to compete as the boom in farmers’ markets starts to lag.
“In Massachusetts, the farmers are at the top of a growth curve. Things have leveled off,” said Jeff Cole, executive director of the Mass. Federation of Farmers Markets. “For the farmers here, outside competition is going to create some challenges....We don’t want oversaturation here in Massachusetts and we’re working on ways to appeal to new customers.”
There are currently 259 summer farmers’ markets in the state, Cole said. The number increased dramatically from 139 in 2007 to 248 in 2013, but growth since then has been slow.
About 40 percent of customers return to farmers’ markets only a few times during the summer season, according to the federation’s research. Cole said the Massachusetts group is exploring digital options for its farmers and thinking about how to make the market model more convenient.
Greg Georgaklis, the founder of Farmers to You, ran a horticultural business in Lexington before he realized there was not a strong enough market for his products. He moved to Vermont and later founded the company.
Besides being convenient for shoppers, Georgaklis said, the system benefits farmers who can rely on Farmers to You to bring them consistent customers. But the most important mission of the business, he said, is to reintroduce people to high-quality, delicious food.
“I just got a fresh batch of greens from one of our farms. It came in not even an hour ago and in one day it’ll be in the hands of one of our partner families,” said Georgaklis by phone. “We’re bringing farmers and families together in the simplest way we can.”
Farmers to You lets customers fill their online basket with groceries sourced from more than 80 Vermont farms. The company puts the orders together and delivers them to a community drop-off site, or directly to the customer’s front door. The website offers staples like fruits, vegetables, bread, and eggs, but also has listings for anything from apple pie to homemade pasta.
The company asks that its partner families spend $40 per order, but are under no obligation to make an order every week. However, according to Georgaklis, the majority do.
Amy Huyffer and her husband, Earl Ransom, the owners of Strafford Organic Creamery in Stafford, Vt., have been working with Farmers to You since 2010.
“We’ve always worked with a few small distributors but Farmers to You is one of our best accounts,” said Huyffer. “We’ve got stable customers. Their orders don’t go up and down. We bottle our milk in reusable bottles and the customers always bring them back which we appreciate a lot.”
Farmers to You has partnerships with cities and towns across the Greater Boston area. There are more than two dozen pick-up sites from the North Shore to Belmont to Somerville, and more than a thousand partner families participating in both pick-ups and home delivery.
Lexington resident Christine Alaimo is the company’s director of business development and events. Alaimo was a customer before she joined the Farmers to You team and currently works on creating pick-up sites.
Lexington has a traditional farmers’ market in addition to using Farmers to You. Alaimo said the pick-up site creates a different kind of community because customers see the same people at the same time every week and can bond over the food.
“I still love to go to the Lexington Farmers Market, but as somebody who works full time I sometimes find it hard to go. The bulk of my grocery shopping is from Farmers to You,” Alaimo said. “At this point, I go to a grocery store maybe twice a month.”
The Wellesley Farmers’ Market launched in traditional fashion the summer of 2012 and continued the next year at the Whole Foods parking lot before going on hiatus in 2014. It started up again in 2015 at the Unitarian Church, but was again forced to go on hiatus last summer.
“We were not getting the volume of people we wanted to see at the markets and we wanted to extend the season but couldn’t do that without that volume,” Spencer said.
The market returned in early September with the new digital model and now has 30 families regularly participating.
“I knew that the food would taste really good but not this good. The flavor is unbelievable,” said McManus. “Every week I get the cherry tomatoes. They’re so sweet I have to stop myself from eating them right there at the pick-up.”
Zipporah Osei can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org