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Online Farmers' Markets Spring Up in Lehigh Valley, Warren County

By LYNN OLANOFF

Article by Lehigh Valley News

John Place's customer base is largely limited to motorists who pass his dairy farm on Route 248 in Moore Township.

Starting later this month, Place plans to make his raw milk, fresh cheese, pasture-raised beef and more available to any area resident with Internet service.

His Keepsake Farm & Dairy is one of 14 food producers that have signed up with the Lehigh Valley Food Co-op to use the Internet to sell local food.

"We were looking to expand our horizons," Place said. "The co-op had a great image of supporting the local farmer and getting the local farmer to get to interact with far more people than I could get to come to the farm store."

Lehigh Valley Food Co-op farmers aren't the only ones turning to the Web. A Knowlton Township resident recently set up an online farmers' market for Warren and Sussex county area farmers.

"A lot of people aren't able or willing to go out to a physical farmers' market. Either they're busy on the weekends or the closest one is too far away," said Tamara Scully, an agricultural writer and marketer. "By having the ordering online, they can do it in the comfort of their home 24 hours a day."

The DigIN on the Farm online farmers' market started up in December with 12 local food producers, ranging from meat to produce to baked goods. Scully said she expects to have more produce farmers involved during the summer and fall when products are in season.

Off-season alternative

In the meantime, the online market offers farmers with winter products a place to sell their goods, Scully said.

"There are farmers who don't have their farm stands open year-round because they can't get the foot traffic, so this allows them to continue to sell product," she said.

Amy Enman already sells her Water Gap Coffee online but DigIN's Web market has helped expand her sales.

"It's great exposure," the Upper Mount Bethel Township resident said. "I've had consistent orders. There was a drastic jump this period around; sales went up 300 percent."

DigIN customers say they like the site's convenience and the fact they're supporting their neighbors.

"I am a huge proponent of locally grown foods -- not only because I believe they are better for us but because small farms are an important part of our local economy and history," said Deborah Sullivan, a Washington resident who ate goatfor the first time because of the online market.

Blairstown Township resident Jennifer Correa-Kruegel said the online market is easier shopping than her local grocery store.

"All we have to do is put in our order and then pick it up on the appropriate day and time," she said. "Everything is divided up for you in advance."

'Virtual storefront'

The Lehigh Valley Food Co-op has 60 customers signed up to start online purchases March 13, President Sherry Kramer said. The group had sought a physical storefront but decided a virtual storefront was all members could afford in the economic recession, said Kramer, a Lower Macungie Township resident.

Plus online ordering is very convenient considering people's busy lifestyles, she said.

Kramer, who isn't a farmer but is working to get into the business, said she and other co-op members are dedicated to eating locally grown food and helping area farmers.

"We don't want to have a faceless farmer from Chile or California," she said. "We want to know where our food is coming from and where it's grown."

Reporter Lynn Olanoff can be reached at 610-867-5000 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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