How an Indiana farm boy found a technical fix for the food supply chain

Indiana farmer Nick Carter, 39, grew up with hopes of joining the family business. But by the time he attended high school in the late 1990s, he knew it wasn’t a viable option. The agricultural crisis of the past decade has devastated the Midwest, and although the Carters escaped foreclosure, a crash in pig prices forced the family to quit farming as a commercial enterprise. Nick went to college instead. Twenty years later, in 2017, he co-founded Market Wagon in Indianapolis to help small farms survive by selling directly to local consumers online. Now the Carters are back and the family farm is back in business without relying on contracts from Smithfield Foods. Along the way, Nick may have fixed one major breakdown in the food supply chain. –A story told to Ali Donaldson

Small family farms are dying for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest problems is that I’m not big enough to grow soybeans or corn to make money. I remember the The message was: It’s a horrible way of looking at the world.

We are an online farmers market that brings local produce to your doorstep. From dairy, eggs, meat and seasonal produce to sauces, condiments and beeswax candles. Over 1,800 farmers and food producers participate. In our smallest market there are 20 to his 30 farmers. In our main market there are about 200.

A big problem we wanted to solve was market access. Who wants to buy grass-fed beef and grass-fed pork from my farm? How do I get them? That’s what makes it difficult for the local food supply chain to expand. We have created both e-commerce technology and logistics systems.

When I started this company, I remember saying, “I don’t know why or how, but our food supply chain will collapse, and when that happens, we will be ready.” increase.

The pandemic has created huge needs on the supply side as well as the demand side. Before the pandemic, the American spent 40% of his time eating out. Then, when restaurants closed in March 2020, retail grocery had to nearly double overnight to meet demand. I could not do it. It was an empty grocery store shelf. OUR SUPPLY He has a huge amount of supply in his chain, and because it’s local, he was able to move it directly to the Market Wagon.

We grew like ripples in a pond. In 18 months he went from 6 cities to 32 cities. Within a year, he went from six people sitting around a small card table in my office to 57 and he’s become a six-tier organizational hierarchy. Culturally, it’s hard.

Our fulfillment centers use a pallet rack system. About two weeks into lockdown, we purchased all the racking east of the Mississippi. I had all the ice packs I needed, but I couldn’t get it to freeze, so I called the restaurant and asked, “Is the freezer still hooked up?” There were many shops that participated in the market wagon because they couldn’t eat in. One thing they could do was use the kitchen to make meals like lasagna, mac and cheese, and soup, then freeze them and list them on his market wagon, making them part of someone’s grocery budget. .

We knew we had a great opportunity, but we needed capital to scale. A Chicago firm called Hyde Park Venture Partners took a chance on us and invested in November 2020. To date, we’ve raised $11 million for him.

It is good for you to know where your food comes from and have a relationship with the person who made it. We want to build loyalty and relationships between our customers and producers. . If he has purchased from one farm before, that farm’s products will appear higher in the search results. How are these egg-laying hens fed?If you have any questions, there is instant his chat. Not queues of cubicles with people talking into headsets. I am a farmer.

We do not charge producers a listing fee and receive approximately 25% of the revenue. They set their own prices and get 75 cents on every dollar. If you’re wholesale to grocery stores and restaurants, it’s about 50 cents on every dollar. Our producers are also part of the fulfillment. It takes 15-20 minutes from each farmhouse. You will be given specific instructions as to where your sold items should be placed within the fulfillment center, so your order will be assembled and save you a lot of time. In two hours, tens of thousands of items are combined into an order.

There will be no return to pre-pandemic conditions. People love the convenience of e-commerce. I have that habit.

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From the September 2022 issue Ltd. magazine

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