Small farms often struggle to compete with industrial agriculture. Big Ag, using GMO seeds and loads and loads of chemicals, can crank out high yields and depress prices to the point that small farmers are often pushed to the brink of bankruptcy if they try to compete on price alone. Big Ag’s products are less healthy, less nutritious, and have seriously negative side effects on watersheds, community health, jobs, and soils, but the end-consumer unfortunately isn’t usually aware of these externalities, and doesn’t often see much beyond the price. This creates the need for farmers to differentiate and diversify.
There are several strategies for this. Farmers can seek organic, fair trade, or other certifications that help consumers see the value in their products enough to pay a price premium for them. These certifications cost money and take time, and often are not a practical solution. Farmers can also sell direct to the consumer, which allows them to tell the story of their farm. This strategy is very effective, and is evidenced by the explosive growth of farmer’s markets across the world.
A third strategy is to diversify your crops, and sell a limited quantity of high quality specialty product direct to the consumer through the internet. This might require a web portal, software for an online shopping cart, and lots, and lots of marketing. These barriers are substantial for many farmers, but with products that are light and easy to ship without refrigeration, the strategy makes sense on a lot of levels.
After spending four months living in Japan and studying the tea culture that brings people together, nurtures health, and fosters a sense of community, Elyse Petersen, a Net Impact member and graduate of the University of Hawaii’s MBA program, has launched Tealet. Tealet helps bring the teas grown by independent farmers direct to the consumer, cutting out the middlemen (grocery stores, etc.), and driving more of the revenue of the product to the farmers themselves.
At the moment, Tealet is conducting a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo. Check it out and redeem some great prizes (tea, delivered), all while supporting a great green startup and helping them launch.
Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on Google Plus