(This story is part of a two-part cover feature. Click here to read the other part, Bumper Crop.)
Can't make it to opening day of the Memphis Farmers Market this Saturday? No problem. Order locally grown spinach, kale, and shiitake mushrooms from your home computer.
Those items and several other seasonal buys are available at Memphis Locally Grown (memphis.locallygrown.net), a new website devoted to sharing in-season produce and handmade crafts produced within a 50-mile radius of the city.
"If you have something you like to make or bake or grow, you can throw your product onto the website and see what happens," says founder Aaron Shafer, who works as a researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. "It's like Etsy [the craft website] and Craigslist and a garage sale all thrown into one."
Shafer isn't trying to steal business from the farmers markets. Instead, he hopes to offer a place for small growers and crafters to sell their goods.
"A lot of growers who are just getting started can't afford the fee to sell at the farmers market every week," Shafer says.
Shafer launched Memphis Locally Grown in February after becoming concerned about the availability of local fruits and vegetables during the farmers markets' off-season.
"I became fascinated with how much of our food is not made locally and what sort of disaster we'd face if our oil systems ever collapsed," Shafer says. "And I thought we could recapture so much local revenue if more people were purchasing locally produced food and products."
Currently, Shafer has nine vendors listed on the site. Some are small growers, such as Flora at Bluebird Farms in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Others, like OC Vegan Food Distributors, specialize in baked goods. Interested sellers can contact Shafer through the website, but products or food must be locally grown.
To order, customers join the site for free and fill out an online order form. Payment is made upon pickup, which happens every other week on Shafer's front porch.
"I'd like to see how this website evolves and how many people join up," Shafer says. "Maybe someday it could even evolve into a store that's run by its members. It depends on how much word-of-mouth gets out about it and how much people continue to value buying local."
Unfortunately, grains and other bulk items aren't typically available from local growers. But organic-food enthusiasts Rufus Peoples and Alycia Carter-Peoples are helping buyers procure those items at a deeply discounted wholesale price through the new Memphis Buyer's Club.
"We order from a company called United Natural Foods, which sells organic foods, supplements, and personal-care products," Carter-Peoples says. "You can pretty much get anything except fresh produce."
That even includes frozen goods, such as ice cream and organic TV dinners. Items are shipped to Honeysuckle Health Foods in Midtown, where cold items are stored in a freezer until they're ready for pickup.
"In Memphis, we really only have one place to shop for health foods. But if Whole Foods doesn't have what you need, you can get that through the buyer's club," Peoples says.
"We try to encourage people to buy locally when they can. For example, you can buy honey here," Carter-Peoples says. "But you can use the club to buy items you'd typically get at Whole Foods or Kroger."
Members pay an annual $15 fee and are free to place orders each month. If members want to buy a certain product but don't want an entire case, they can often make arrangements to split the order with another member.
"Last time we ordered, we had a lady who split her order with members of her church who might not typically purchase organic foods," Carter-Peoples says. "It was a way of not only passing on savings but spreading a message about healthy eating."
The Memphis Buyer's Club hosts monthly meetings at Caritas Village. (The April meeting was not yet scheduled by press time.) Members don't need to attend meetings to order, however. Information on how to obtain a catalog and order form is available through the group's website at groups.yahoo.com/group/memphisbuyersclub.
"Instead of running to the grocery store every week, you can get all this stuff at a reasonable price in bulk," Carter-Peoples says. "In light of the current economic situation, it's a great way to buy food at a reduced price."
Memphis Locally Grown,
Memphis Buyer's Club,