Illinois farmers who had never considered selling online in the past have moved to online selling because of the pandemic.
“COVID caused people to not want to transact in person,” said Kami Semick, founder and CEO of Food 4 All. “In 2020 and 2021, more and more farmers started going online to take orders.”
Food 4 All is a free and national online platform for farmers. Thousands of Illinois farmers are now online selling direct to consumers, she said.
Consumers can buy farm products such as tomatoes and vegetables to meats and flowers. Buyers can make one-time purchases or sign up for subscription boxes.
“You can subscribe to anything these days – meats, vegetables, value-added products,” she said.
Having a website and running an online business used to cost farmers thousands of dollars. The Food 4 All platform is free to farmers. Consumers pay a small fee for each transaction to support the farmer’s use of the technology.
“We enable online transactions for farmers,” Semick explained. “We are trying to take the marketing burden off of producers and give them more visibility to buyers.”
On the Food 4 All platform, farmers can set up an online store.
“A buyer can go online, type in their zip code, find an online store, and use their credit card to buy products,” Semick said.
Food 4 All partners with MarketMaker, a University of Illinois Extension online marketing program, to promote farmers’ online businesses. MarketMaker was initially developed by the University of Illinois to assist livestock farmers with marketing strategies for value-added meat products. On the MarketMaker website, farmers post a profile to help buyers find them.
MarketMaker works with the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Farmers Market Association, the Farmer Veteran Coalition, Buy Fresh, Buy Local and minority farmer groups to connect buyers with customers and products.
“We are passionate about supporting local food systems because, from a climate standpoint, it is a smaller footprint,” Semick said. “If you are buying from your local farmer, you are investing in your community,”
Consumers' dollars stay in the community and are helping the planet by reducing the carbon footprint, she said.
There’s another reason to buy local.
"It just tastes better," Semick said. “The food is fresher. You can buy heirloom varieties and seasonal food that you can’t get anywhere else,”
The majority of our economy now happens online, Semick said.
“We’re trying to make it really easy for producers to have an online presence in a really cost effective way, so that they can compete with the Amazon’s of the world,” she said.