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Local Farmers Go Online to Sell Direct to Chefs

The chef of Eleven Madison Park restaurant in New York checks the items for sale in the back of a van selling produce.
The chef of Eleven Madison Park restaurant in New York checks the items for sale in the back of a van selling produce.Photograph by Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times/Redux

Dean Sparks is a 49-year-old farmer near Binghamton, N.Y., who for decades has relied on wholesale distributors to buy his organic eggs, milk, and cheese and sell it to stores and restaurants around the East Coast. In early April, he started experimenting with online food wholesaler FarmersWeb to sell to chefs and shop owners directly. He’s since landed about a dozen new clients via the site and relishes its simplicity. “With FarmersWeb, selling is a 15-minute process without hours of paperwork,” says Sparks. “For a small business, time can be more valuable than money. It makes a big difference.”

The site gives wholesale buyers in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut a way to search for food produced within 300 miles of their locations and buy it directly from farmers. In essence, it’s a virtual farmers’ market with hundreds of local bounties for sale, from produce to meat to seafood, at prices comparable to traditional wholesalers’. Farmers create lists describing what they’re selling; chefs peruse them, then place orders. All orders have to be paid in advance by credit card, and FarmersWeb takes a fee of about 5 percent per order. In late July, a grass-fed half cow from Adirondack Grazers’ Cooperative, not far from Sparks’ farms, was priced at around $1,350; a case of 100 oysters from Blue Island Oyster Co. in Long Island was just under $78.