Since becoming a VA FAIRS program in 2016, Lulus Local Food, an innovative online sales platform, has connected more than 350 Virginia farmers to 8,400 families hungry for fresh, locally grown farm products. The platform was launched by the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability (VA FAIRS), which provides technical services to growers who are either transitioning from commodity production to value-added or are expanding their value-added business.
According to Julia Clark, assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation, Lulus Local Food provides farmers with a direct retail outlet and at the same time gives VAFB an opportunity to market memberships to farmers who want to use the platform, as well as consumers who would like more of a direct link to their food.
In 2016, Lulus Local Food connected more than 300 food producers to 1,800-plus families. As of this spring, 360 Virginia farmers and 8,400 families were using the service to sell and buy farm products.
Lulus Local Food is unique in several ways. The platform puts farmers in control of the marketplace by allowing them to set their own prices, explained Clark.
“The products available through Lulus Local Food are inventoried and traceable to the farm of origin and all product descriptions are written by the farmers, providing total transparency to the customer,” Clark said.
Molly Harris, VA FAIRS project manager, said the program helps promote local food and product sales year-round, especially during months when farmers’ markets traditionally are closed.
Unlike other sales platforms, Lulus Local Food requires no initial investment, like a monthly fee. Instead, Lulus earns 2 percent of gross sales, so if farmers don’t make any money, they don’t have to hand anything over to Lulus.
Lulus Local Food garnered Virginia Farm Bureau a 2017 New Horizon Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The award honors state Farm Bureaus with the most innovative new programs. The award is presented annually at the AFBF Annual Convention.