Since 2006, PEC’s Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters have provided free marketing opportunities for local farmers through our annual guides and have connected multitudes of families to the fresh, local products grown and raised in the Piedmont. In 2018, PEC staff conducted interviews and focus groups with our Buy Fresh Buy Local partners and released local food producer and community surveys to identify barriers within the Piedmont’s local food system. These surveys help inform how PEC’s programming can tackle those barriers and create opportunities to strengthen local agriculture around the region
More than a third of our partners responded that the guide provides significant promotion for their products. Many also cited one of the consistent challenges as advertising products and expanding their product buyer base. Issues with pricing, finding time to develop new market relationships and connect with community members hinder farmers’ ability to grow or fully establish their business.
Our surveys gleaned information on how consumers use the annual Buy Fresh Buy Local guide and their local food purchasing habits. Most consumers received their guide in the mail (57%) and are using it to find area farmers markets and restaurants and retailers that use local products. When asked what would encourage them to purchase more local food, it came down to convenience and information.
PEC has taken this information to develop events and programming to fill in these marketing gaps. We have hosted local food showcases, buyer and seller mixers that allow local producers to connect with a range of buyers—from small café owners to public school food service directors and national grocery chain produce buyers.
In the spring of 2019, PEC launched the refreshed BuyLocalVirginia.org website that will provide a much needed online presence for our chapter partners.
New Digital Collaboration
To enhance this online hub for local food information, PEC is excited to announce our partnership with Virginia Tech and MarketMaker. MarketMaker is nationwide and centers around a virtual information-sharing platform that brings fresh and local food to consumers. PEC’s well-known and growing Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters bring an already established network of local food producers, while MarketMaker provides online market connections that will strengthen local food market purchasing.
This collaboration targets local food producers (i.e. farmers, value-added producers, specialty beverage makers) and local food buyers (i.e. chefs, grocery store managers, institutional food service directors, wholesalers, aggregators and distributors). Through this partnership, PEC is supporting development of a streamlined, centralized state-wide local food inventory that provides food producers and buyers access to Buy Fresh Buy Local branding, Virginia Grown branding and the MarketMaker online connection platform all within the same database.