New e-commerce project helps market Alberni Valley growers

Susan Roth and Wayne Smith have teamed up to create Our Local Markets, a web community for farmers and artisan food producers.

Susan Roth of Port Alberni is turning a health issue into a for-profit business, and farmers in the valley couldn’t be happier.

Roth was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago, meaning she cannot tolerate eating wheat. Compounding the problem, Roth is also allergic to corn—which is a popular substitute for wheat products.

“It’s incredibly important (for me) to eat properly,” she said. “I can’t buy from the grocery store; I need local farmers.”

Roth was laid off from her forestry job several years ago and went back to school to earn a business degree. That’s when the idea for an e-commerce site took flight.

Our Local Markets will give consumers access to fresh, nutritional food, and it will give farmers a broader venue to sell their product, says Roth.

“It’s direct marketing from the farmer to the consumer. We’re not wholesalers.”

Roth said the point of the for-profit e-commerce site is to provide local farmers and artisan food producers with affordable, high-impact e-commerce marketing and distribution services. Using the Internet to market food is a relatively new idea, she acknowledged. But younger people are more attuned to websites, and all the producers are still held up to Canada Food Inspection Agency standards.

Roth and her partner, farmer Wayne Smith of Pleasant Valley Farm, will take care of both marketing and distribution. Their region will encompass the mid-Island, and Roth will be distributing product herself for now.

Smith said he fell in love with Roth’s idea as soon as she pitched it to him. Smith has a fresh milled grain business, and he was looking for different markets in which to sell his product.

Having an intermediary to take care of that for him will help drive his business, he said.

While Roth had the business acumen for her venture, she needed the agricultural expertise that Smith has.

When it is up and running, Roth intends for Our Local Markets to include profiles of all the small farms and artisan producers featured.

The website will put money in farmers’ pockets but it will also strengthen the community from a food security point of view, she said. A by-product of the e-commerce site will hopefully be healthy food boxes.

These would contain items gleaned from local farmers.

Roth and Smith already have nine local food producers on board providing vegetables, grains, eggs, poultry and beef, and three artisan food producers including a First Nations fish producer. Roth has gone to several farmers’ markets on the West Coast and said there is a need to get healthy food to remote communities.

“Without question, the market for local food is strong, even stronger than organic food,” she said.

Our Local Markets won a $500 prize from BC Ideas, and is now entered in another contest for $15,000 in startup costs. To vote for this Port Alberni venture, go online to www.changemakers.com/bcideas and follow the links for “Our Local Markets”. Judging for the contest will start sometime after this week.

editor@albernivalleynews.com

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