On any given Wednesday afternoon, at Trinity Presbyterian church in Nashville, you can find Tally May and John Drury of the Fresh Harvest online farmers cooperative, standing amidst their bountiful harvest, visiting with customers and sharing the latest news about their respective farms. Customers who have ordered their produce online, come from all over town to pick up their food and prove that the Fresh Harvest online farmers market is thriving.

Farmers Markets have long been a way for people to connect with farmers and get the best in local produce. And now, through the miracle of online technology and thanks to Eric Wagoner, creator of the online software LocallyGrown.net, they're becoming more customer-friendly and more farmer-friendly everyday.
Eric Wagoner, who works as a software developer in Athens, GA, designed the software for the online farmers market Locally Grown in 2006. Wagoner created the site after taking over an online buying club that had become a logistical nightmare for its founder. Wagoner describes his online program saying, "Locally Grown is an online farmer's market where customers buy their produce online and come to one spot to pick it all up. At the traditional farmer's market the growers have to guess how much they think they can sell and hope that they guessed correctly. But at locally grown, the customers order first before anything's been harvested at all. So when the growers are out there, they're picking to order, so there's no speculation and no waste. We're an example of technology making things easier for both the farmer and the customer."

Locally Grown does make things considerably more convenient for the customer. As Eric says, "From the customer's point of view, they get all of the advantages of going to the farmer's market... they can order from individual farms, they can browse and see what's available before they make their decision, but they don't have to get there at the crack of dawn on Saturday to get the good stuff. "

An added convenience for many customers is that the locally grown model does not require an upfront purchase of a farm share, followed by a weekly box of produce. Instead, the customer is allowed to purchase only what he or she can use each week and is not required to make a purchase every week. As former CSA member, Kim Hussey-Ross says, "it was like Christmas every week to have that big, beautiful box of produce. But then I always felt guilty when I couldn't use everything and had to throw things out."

And from the grower's end Wagoner adds, "it works like the farmer's market... they can sell to a bunch of people all at once, but they don't have to harvest late into the night on Friday or get up at 3:30 in the morning on Saturday to go and get set up. They know they're going to sell everything they harvest because they get all of the orders first."

The locally grown network has seen exponential growth because of its convenience and obvious advantages. Wagoner has made the site very user friendly and describes it saying, "I've made things so that a market can get up and running in just a few minutes, with no input at all from me, and with no up-front costs. It's really easy for a group to give it a try and see if it's a good tool for them." The online model has an additional benefit for organic, local farmers who might be growing unusual and unfamiliar heirloom varieties. The locally grown model allows farmers to describe their produce with a distinct voice and beautiful photographs. As Wagoner says, "I don't grow just carrots; I grow 'red core chantenay'. If you want to write a little novella about every product you have, that's fine by me,"

The locally grown network is used extensively by farmers in middle Tennessee, many of whom have joined together to form cooperatives. One example of that type of cooperation among Locally Grown farmers is Fresh Harvest, which is a cooperative of 13 growers. Fresh Harvest sells everything from organic fruit and vegetables to artisan breads and natural bath and beauty products and their website states, "there are no resellers, no middle men, and nothing but fresh local products."

For a current list of markets in the middle TN area, you can check out the locally grown website at http://www.locallygrown.net/markets/list. Those currently listed include:

      Cheatham Farmers Group - serving Cheatham, Davidson,
              Robertson Counties
      Fresh Harvest, LLC - Nashville area
      Franklin,TN - Serving Franklin/Brentwood TN.
      Stones River Market - Murfreesboro and surrounding areas
      Meadow Branch- Nashville, Brentwood, Franklin
      Middle TN Market - Nashville, Franklin, Brentwood, Hermitage,
             Mount Juliet and Antioch
      Bells Bend Locally Grown - Serving Nashville, Scottsboro-Bells
             Bend, and Ashland City
      Fayetteville, TN - Serving Fayetteville, Lincoln County, and
             surrounding communities in TN and northern AL
      McMinnville Locally Grown - Serving McMinnville and Warren
              County, and surrounding communities.
      Cumberland Farmer's Market - Serving Sewanee and Monteagle
              Tennessee and surrounding communities.
      tlg, TN - Serving Tullahoma and Surrounding Counties
      Tullahoma Locally Grown - Serving Tullahoma, Tennessee and
             surrounding communities

      When asked about the CSA model vs. the online farmer's market,

Wagoner explains, "I've seen some farms move away from the CSA model, but I've also seen others add a subscription service in addition to their market offerings. My market system takes a lot of the speculation out of selling at traditional markets, so growers get the peace of mind of a CSA with the flexibility of a farmers market. I've worked hard to combine the good bits of the various models while minimizing the bad bits, and it has worked out well for a lot of people, growers and customers alike."

The online farmers market demonstrates the creative ways that farmers are making farm-to-table a user-friendly proposition. And certainly, one of the best features of the online markets is that, at heart, they thrive on the rich relationships that develop between growers and consumers. They thrive on those afternoons when farmers and their customers come together to share the bounty of the harvest.