Farmers To You finds a silver lining in the tumultuous years of the pandemic

Farmers to You workers pack food at the company’s headquarters in Middlesex. Farmers To You connects farmers and food producers in Vermont with customers in the Boston area. Photos by Erica Housekeeper.

by Janice St Onge, Vermont Flexible Capital Fund “Our mission hasn’t changed,” said Greg Georgaklis, founder of Farmers To You, “but the world has changed.”

Launched in 2009, Farmers To You connects farmers and food producers in Vermont with customers in the Boston area. Similar to a CSA, the platform lets people buy groceries directly from farmers and small food producers in Vermont, but differs in that customers can order items a la carte and pause deliveries. if needed.

The mission in 2009 was to create a regional food system – something between hyper-local and large-scale industrial – that would allow families and farmers to feed and support each other.

Greg Georgaklis, founder of Farmers to You, founded the company in 2009. The mission was to create a regional food system – something between hyper-local and large-scale industry – that would empower families and farmers to feed and support each other.

“That hasn’t changed,” Georgaklis said, “but the last few years have been a wild ride.”

When COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020, Farmers To You sales more than doubled in four weeks. “We have gone from feeding 800 families per week to feeding 1,200 families per week, and the average order size has increased significantly,” Georgaklis said.

At the same time, local farmers and producers were looking forward to a season without farmers markets or their usual orders from restaurants. “There was panic on both sides,” Georgaklis said. “We’ve had growers call us desperate saying eighty percent of their business is gone. On the other hand, we had more requests than ever before.

Farmers at you stepped up

Georgaklis has doubled its staff to keep orders flowing. He began promoting producers like Valicenti Pasta Farm, who were particularly reliant on farmers’ markets, and worked with Red Hen Bakery to add quiches, soups and baked goods to the menu offerings. “We were working ridiculous hours, but it was worth it,” he said. “Producers like Valicenti have quadrupled their sales with us.”

As word spread, Farmers To You had to start putting new customers on a waiting list, which grew to over 4,000 in the early months of the pandemic. Based on the growth trajectory, the company made the decision to move to a larger facility where it could expand.

Farmers to You employees at work at company facilities in central Vermont. Similar to a CSA, the platform lets people buy groceries directly from farmers and small food producers in Vermont, but differs in that customers can order items a la carte and pause deliveries. if needed.

This was the company’s second expansion and relocation. In 2013, the Vermont Flexible Capital Fund (“Flex Fund”) provided $305,000 in royalty funding (also known as revenue-based funding) to Farmers To You and brought in an additional $45,000 from investors to patient impact to support the company’s first expansion from a barn. in the back yard of Georgaklis at a facility in central Vermont. The funds also enabled Farmers To You to purchase additional equipment, add key staff, and streamline the website and ordering system. Georgaklis repaid the loan in full in 2020, just before the pandemic.

By the time the second move and expansion was complete, however, the lockdown was over and people were heading back to supermarkets to do their shopping. “We started taking people off the waitlist and it was a big yawn,” Georgaklis said. He also noticed that some people who joined at the start of the pandemic were canceling their membership. “It was tough,” he said. “We worked so hard to increase capacity and then the demand wasn’t there. We had to take a break. »

The silver lining

Despite declining demand since peaking in the spring of 2020, Farmers To You has maintained revenue from 2020 to 2021. They currently serve 2,000 families in the Boston area and have facilitated over $12.5 million in sales for regional farmers and food producers since 2010, $4.8 million. of this over the past two years. More importantly, says Georgaklis, the pandemic has proven that the model can scale, and quickly. “We doubled during the pandemic and we can double again without any problem,” he said.

“I’m glad the model is working,” he said. “We had to make some adjustments, but we can be sustainable and there is room for expansion. In the market, the large scale industrial food system has shown its flaws and it will only get worse as they don’t even try to fix the problems. It gives me hope that we will be held to account, not overnight, but slowly over time.

Georgaklis also hopes for a budding alliance between Farmers To You and other similar organizations across the country. “Many of us started with local, slow money, like we did with the Flex Fund,” he said. “People who are more concerned with their impact on the local landscape than making big profits.”

The group talks about how to form an alliance to help each other grow. Georgaklis has invested heavily in the backend of its website, for example, and is ready to share this technology. “We’ve already spent the money, so let’s see how they can use the software and we can all improve together,” he said. “We’ve all gone it alone for a long time, and now it’s time to collaborate so we can evolve in a way that is consistent with the human element.”

In 2013, the Vermont Flexible Capital Fund provided $305,000 in royalty funding to Farmers To You and brought in an additional $45,000 from patient impact investors to support the company’s first expansion of a backyard barn. rear of Georgaklis to a facility in central Vermont.

About the flexible capital fund

The Flexible Capital Fund, L3C is a community development financial institution (CDFI) and impact investment fund that provides flexible venture capital in the form of subordinated debt, revenue-based financing (also known as royalty financing) and alternative capital structures, in the growth stage. companies in Vermont and the region’s food systems, forest products and clean technology sectors.

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