Ozarks Farmers Turn to Online Marketplace for Food Exchange

Jun 26, 2017

Zerubbabel Ben Emunah, who sells food and crafts with his wife at a farmer's market in West Plains, says he will soon try a digital marketplace for his goods.
Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU

Farmers in the Ozarks know how to grow and produce.

But many farmers struggle with getting the word out to potential buyers that their food is available.

In today’s segment on Innovation in the Ozarks, we’re looking at a startup that offers a new, online model for the marketing and exchange of local food.

Here at the Go Farm outdoor market in West Plains, Zerubbabel Ben Emunah and his wife are selling bread, jelly, and hand-stitched blankets. 

“And we sell both fresh and dried herbs. And we also have bees and we harvest the honey and sell honey,” Ben Emunah said.

Their farm, Woodland Sanctuary, just set up a Facebook page. But getting the word out to a wider market is hard, Ben Emunah said.

“Yes, it is. It’s a very big challenge for the little guy. You know, the mom and pop outfit, like we are,” Ben Emunah said.

So he’s trying out a new online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers in real time.

It’s called 2BuyAg, and Kim Harrison is the co-founder and CEO.

I ask Harrison to walk us through a hypothetical situation.  Let’s say someone in the Ozarks wants organic 

Kim Harrison is co-founder and CEO of 2BuyAg, a digital marketplace where buyers and farmers connect.
Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU


“They can search for food two ways. One is they can create a buying post that would say exactly what they need: quantity, type of item, when they needed it.  Let’s say if they were making pies for a wedding, or jams, and they had a timeframe – they could post that. Or they could use the filters to search in the marketplace for the items they need,” Harrison said.

“Certainly, location is important, so they would use that if they wanted to find peaches in a certain place in Missouri,” Harrison said.

The website allows shoppers to click on little square buttons for fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, greens, eggs, and other categories. 

Harrison’s setup bypasses retailers like grocery stores.  Using her website, shoppers communicate directly with the farmer.

“And transparency involves traceability, getting to know the people that actually raise the food, grow the food that you put into your body,” Harrison said. 

Harrison is a sheep and cattle farmer from central Missouri. She says this all began because it was hard to find time to both manage her flock and market her product.

Craig Jennings, left, sells food at a farmer's market in West Plains, Missouri.

She reached out for help to the Small Business and Technology Development Center, or SBTDC at Missouri State University-West Plains.

“And we launched what we called our beta version the first of the year. And when we say beta, we mean it’s fully functional,” Harrison said.

“And then, being in beta, we really want feedback. So that’s what we mean by beta—is that we are learning and growing, and asking for feedback, both positive and negative, how we can make it better,” Harrison said.

Craig Jennings is a farmer in south-central Missouri. He sells lettuce, bread, and other goods. He’s been in touch with Harrison, and he’s going to try her digital marketplace out.

“I think the online thing is a huge thing to look at. I look at things like Blue Apron and Chef in a Box and stuff, and I’m quite impressed by that. And I think, ‘How is it that we can innovate that to the local community here,” Jennings said.

The online marketplace, 2BuyAg, is limited to Missouri for now, and shoppers can search by zip code.  Buyers communicate with the farmer on whether to have their food shipped, delivered, or picked up.