Loudoun Bolsters Online Farm Marketplace with $20,000 Virginia AFID Grant

A selection of products available for purchase through the Marketplace. AFID Grant

Loudoun farms and agriculture-based businesses got a boost on Friday, as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam awarded a $20,000 Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development grant to Loudoun Economic Development in support of the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace.

The Marketplace, launched in mid-April during the COVID-19 statewide lockdown, provides a direct, online link between farmers and their customers. Farmers set their own prices, delivery and pick-up locations, and 100% of proceeds go directly to the farmers.

The platform, which is powered by Local Line, charges a flat monthly fee for farms to sell on the platform. Loudoun Economic Development initially committed to sponsoring the first six months of use, which would have run through the end of September. The AFID grant funding will be used for advertising, technical assistance, and establishing drop-off locations.

To browse and shop from the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace, visit LoudounFarms.org/Marketplace.

“Agriculture plays a key role within our local economy, generating jobs, fueling Loudoun’s tourism industry, providing residents access to high-quality products, and giving Loudoun a unique asset within the region. But farms can’t exist without customers,” Loudoun Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer explained. “At a time when restaurants, hotels and other bulk buyers were unable to make wholesale purchases from farms, the Marketplace gave Loudoun farms access to a retail audience.

“This AFID grant allows us to expand our vendor list, increase the marketing and development, and fund more #LoudounPossible business opportunities.”

More than 660 product types are currently available on the Marketplace, provided by 40 Loudoun farms. Thanks to Loudoun’s rich soil and nine-month growing season, new products are constantly cycling through the Marketplace.

Loudoun supports approximately 122,000 acres of farmland and more than 1,200 independent farms. On average, Loudoun County farms are 97 acres, with more than 50% of farms totaling 50 acres or less.

Studies of the Washington, D.C., metro area have shown that agriculture within 100-200 miles of D.C. has fallen short of meeting consumer demand.

Loudoun farmers have indicated to the county that part of the problem lies in the large amount of time they must spend transporting produce to and from farmers markets. Often farmers must visit markets three to four times per week to sell their produce, limiting their production hours and falling short of consumer demand.

“Nearly all of our farms are family-owned and operated, which forces them to wear sales and marketing hats in addition to agriculture. The Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace helps automate that sales process while they focus on what they do best,” said Business Development Officer for Agriculture and Business Services John Magistro. “This is a service that was born out of a crisis, but can be a powerful tool to support the Loudoun farming community moving forward.”

In addition to the $20,000 grant, Loudoun County has already committed at least $31,000 to marketing and administration, along with $30,600 in staff time during the two-year grant cycle.

Transactions on the Marketplace have been completed following the latest COVID-19 preventative guidance from the CDC and Virginia Department of Health, and many farms have taken the Loudoun Is Ready pledge.

Loudoun County and Floyd County were both announced as Virginia AFID grant recipients, with Governor Northam stating: “I commend the efforts of Floyd and Loudoun counties to partner with stakeholders in their communities and help local farmers adapt to the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

To browse and shop from the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace, visit LoudounFarms.org/Marketplace.