Locals expand business selling crafts, produce online

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Small businesses in Gainesville are using the Internet to bring their local goods to a wider audience. Despite not selling products face-to-face, the human connection isn't lost online. (Video and photos by Stefania Ferro)

By Stefania Ferro

On a stand outside his home, Chuck Bellamy sells fruits from his grove in Inverness, Fla. Locals can purchase what he grows, but for the previous five years, customers in other states can taste his fresh oranges, too, by ordering on his website.

More farmers are selling their produce online as another way to market their products. Whether users are selling handmade crafts on Etsy.com or locally grown food online, customers can support local businesses without leaving home.

Jared Sweat, manager of the Alachua County Farmers Market, has noticed some of the younger farmers in the market selling their goods online.

"Some people come home with a lot of produce and they have to get rid of it because it's still good," Sweat said. "Online services provide them an extra outlet to sell the stuff."

Bellamy sells oranges, tangerines and grapefruit through his website. He receives between 200 and 300 online orders a year. Despite the number of orders, he said his farm is competing with other growers who have offered similar online services longer.

He receives more orders between Thanksgiving and Christmas because his customers tend to send the citrus to northern states as holiday presents, he said.

Online ordering is more labor-intensive for him than selling goods in person because he checks the quality of the citrus and how it is placed and presented in the box.

There is always the doubt of how the box with his citrus is handled through the shipment. More often he said he receives feedback from the sender on how the order was received and eaten.

Although Sweat's seen younger farmers set up online ordering, he said more of the older farmers are instead using websites like Facebook and Craigslist to advertise their selling locations and goods.

Older farmers may be resistant to setting up shop online because they enjoy talking to customers in person.

"Most of them like to have that face-to-face interaction and talk to people, so that's the reason they come down [to the farmers market] in the first place," Sweat said. "They come here to come directly sell to the customer."

Kathy Graham of Graham Farms in Brooker, Fla., has been farming for about 16 years. Her farm grows and sells seasonal foods, homemade jams and plants, and she brings them all to the Alachua County Farmers Market.

Graham likes building customer relationships through the face-to-face interaction at the market, she said. Therefore, she doesn't sell her farmed goods online.

"There is no guarantee that a perishable will be fresh when it's shipped," she said.

Twice a month, ShiAnne Breedlove, a registered nurse at Gainesville Veterans Administration Medical Center, drives to a friend's home to pick up her fruits and vegetables she ordered online.

Breedlove recently joined Annie's Organic Buying club, which allows its members to order organic produce online and collect it at a nearby pick-up point, according to its website. Her bimonthly orders include food that is locally grown and from other places.

Besides the convenience of paying online, Breedlove receives Facebook messages about what produce will be in her box for that week and enjoys reading suggested recipes.

However, buying food grown in Gainesville limits her choice of fruits and vegetables. The club sends her a variety of different produce from other locations.

"I found this buying club to give me a nice mixture of locally grown stuff but also organic things from other places I want to eat," she said.

Despite receiving her online goods earlier in the week, Breedlove still starts her Saturday morning routine by visiting local growers.

"My friend and I do love to come and mosey around the farmers market," she said. "There's the experience of talking to people and meeting the farmers."