Community Agriculture Alliance online marketplace poised to grow | SteamboatToday.com

Community Agriculture Alliance online marketplace poised to grow

Teresa Ristow

Kris Brannan delivers her eggs for the Community Agriculture Alliance's online marketplace Friday morning at the organization's downtown offices. The CAA is aiming to expand the number of buyers and sellers using the marketplace with funding they were recently awarded from a United States Department of Agriculture grant.

— A grant from the United States Department of Agriculture will help the Community Agriculture Alliance continue to grow and develop an online marketplace for local food sales and expand other efforts.

CAA was awarded $81,000 as part of $34 million given out by the USDA to support local foods infrastructure and increase access to fruits and vegetables.

"The end game for this grant is to increase sales and promotion of local food," said Michele Meyer, local foods coordinator for the CAA.

Formed in 1999 to promote agriculture in the Yampa Valley, CAA champions local agriculture efforts, in part by running an online marketplace where residents can purchase meat, seasonal produce, coffee and other locally made food, health and beauty and pet products. The organization also runs a cooperative Farmers Market booth in the summer to allow small local producers to sell their products together.

A portion of the grant funding will be used to purchase a large walk-in freezer to allow for easier storage of foods for local producers. Meyer said a lack of freezer storage space has been a challenge for local producers hoping to sell food on the CAA marketplace.

"That's been a huge hurdle for us for many years," Meyer said. "We now have funding that is going towards that storage space."

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The new freezer will be housed at Lift-Up, and CAA is working through the details of how to ensure the space allows for secure, separated storage for multiple producers.

Exchanges of goods and money on the current CAA marketplace involve busy Fridays at the CAA's downtown office, with producers dropping off orders in the morning and customers stopping by in the afternoon to pay in cash and pick up their purchases.

Meyer said the CAA freezer is often overfilled with products on those days.

Apart from the freezer, much of the grant funding will be used to strengthen the marketplace by enhancing the website, increasing the number of producers and customers and increasing sales.

About 250 people who have signed up for the marketplace, and about 100 are regular customers, Meyer said. About 25 to 30 transactions totaling about $1,000 in sales take place each week.

The group hopes to increase customers and sales by 50 percent between now and September 2016.

"We are just really starting to get the word out about the online market, but there's still a lot of people that don't know about it," Meyer said.

The CAA also hopes to use funding to provide more training to local producers, many of whom are part-time, on marketing, pricing and labeling, regulatory requirements and general business planning by hosting two educational events sometime before June 2017.

Funding also will be used to increase capacity and infrastructure for the seasonal Farmers Market booth.

The funding was awarded as part of the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program and requires that the CAA report on outcomes achieved during a two-year period.

Visit the CAA marketplace at caamarket.org or learn more about the CAA by visiting communityagalliance.org.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow