By John Aikman
“Where did you get these steaks? They’re fantastic!” is the usual reaction from friends from out-of-town to eating beef at my dinner table in South Central Wisconsin. Some of these dinner guests have even asked me to mail meat to their homes in places as far away as Miami and Atlanta because they loved it so much.
My family enjoys beef from local farms in South Central Wisconsin. It varies in type, but whether Angus, Scottish Highland, or Holstein, it is always tender, tasty and of course, most importantly, I know where it comes from and how it was raised.
Though not a farmer myself, I grew up in a small market town in the UK where the sights and sounds of the livestock yard on market day were something that every kid was familiar with. I spent most summers in my mother’s native Italy where grandparents raised cattle, pigs and rabbits for dairy and meat for family consumption. As a result I have a great understanding and love of farming culture and traditions.
Sometime in 2010 I took a call from a friend asking if I wanted to buy a quarter beef from a farmer friend of hers. The person who had agreed to buy it had bailed on her and she needed to find a new buyer fast. That was the beginning of Home Grown Cow.
Solving the Equation
I suddenly realized that I was looking at two sides of an equation that was missing an “equals” sign. Friends with their craving for delicious, farm-direct meat; and busy farmers without an easy or lucrative way to reach a growing market of hungry online shoppers.
My wife, Karen and I, met with farmers, and heard about the challenges of local bulk beef sales, people backing out, customers not paying, the importance of timing, processing, the dangers of listing your farm with unverified classified ad sites, and so on. It became clear that many farmers are being left behind by a digital world of online sales marching on into the future without them. Further research also taught us that smaller, more traditional farms are having an increasingly tough time due to the continuing vertical integration of the industry, which has forced most of them to become price-takers rather than price-makers, and that a small number of very big companies control more than 80% of the meat supply in the United States.
It was time to act; I called my old high school friend Dom Lindars on the west coast, entrepreneur, programming wizard and rocket scientist among many other things. He was looking for advice on whom to hire to build the site and what sort of components it would need. By the end of the phone call, Dom, now my business partner, had agreed to create the site from the concept I had dreamed up which now serves farms and customers nationwide, and www.homegrowncow.com was born.
Home Grown Cow removes the constraints of time, skills and money that keep small farms from engaging in e-commerce.
Home Grown Cow is a free, instant, easy-to-use online sales presence that:
• Provides an online farm store
• Takes credit card payments
• Does your Internet marketing
• Handles nationwide shipping
• Customers pay up-front
• Participation is free
• Farms are paid quickly
Home Grown Cow serves two groups of people. First and foremost it serves farmers who, they have learned, can be held back from engaging in e-commerce because they lack time, money or the necessary skills to do so. Home Grown Cow ensures that they have an easy way of listing their farm and selling their products online at absolutely no cost to them. The second group of people of course is the customers – affectionately known as “Eaters”, and the goal for them is to offer choice and transparency in the meat, poultry and cheese that they put on their table.
How it All Works
From the farmers’ perspective Home Grown Cow helps eliminate a number of headaches common to online sales. First, the farm profile is easy to set up and use and costs nothing, so no web designer or hosting fees are needed. It’s as easy as setting up a Facebook or E-Bay account. No Internet access? No problem – you can fax the information and the team will set it up for you. Secondly, Home Grown Cow accepts credit card payments up-front, so farmers never have to worry that the customer will back out of the deal, or that they won’t get paid. Thirdly, for farms that want to ship, we help with that too – calculating and collecting shipping fees from customers and producing packing slips and airbills that are e-mailed to the farmer after the sale is accepted. All the farmer has to do is package up the goods, stick on the label and get the package to the carrier’s nearest location. We also provide guidance on how to do that, and shipping rates are 62% of the standard shipping rates advertised by the carrier which is welcomed by far-flung Eaters. Finally, Home Grown Cow accommodates all kinds of meat, poultry and cheese producers; farms can list everything from a whole beef to an emu fan steak. Products can be USDA-inspected, state-inspected or custom-exempt inspected, and this is clearly communicated to the customer at the time of purchase along with what each of them means.
Other advantages include the ability to list products well in advance of their availability dates and pre-sell them, a huge help with inventory and cost management, and the Home Grown Cow “Safety Net” which protects Farmers by collecting funds up front and Eaters by holding payment to farms until after the goods are satisfactorily received.
Something for Everyone
The variety of people shopping online for meat is enormous. There are people shopping for value – bulk “freezer meat”; those who want to know that their meat contains no added hormones or antibiotics; there are fancy folk who might want to serve “American Kobe Beef” at a special dinner; and gentle souls who take solace in knowing that their meat was raised especially humanely, to name just a few. Home Grown Cow, with its growing group of participating farms uses simple check boxes to identify customer preferences, and farm practices so they can be matched up.
Home Grown Cow offers an ever-increasing variety of meat, poultry and cheese to consumers all over the country at prices that are generally less expensive than more traditional sales channels even with the 15% service fee that is included in the retail prices. The fee covers transaction costs, marketing costs and operational costs associated with running the site.
Of course the best part about Home Grown Cow is that it’s free for farmers to use – so there’s no risk involved in giving it try. Even farms that already have an online store can reach customers with Home Grown Cow that they wouldn’t otherwise reach on their own, and farms with a web-site with no store can use Home Grown Cow as their store simply by linking to their farm profile at www.homegrowncow.com
John Aikman is Co-Founder of Home Grown Cow, LLC, a national company based in South Central Wisconsin. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org