Farmer-Chef Express, a new website designed to increase the amount of local food purchased in the area, connects buyers and sellers by simplifying the process of placing in-season products on restaurant menus.

“The website is nice because I can list what I’ve got and when I’ve got it. It’s all about networking,” said local farmer Brian Walden from Steadfast Farm.

The Piedmont Environmental Council launched Farmer-Chef Express earlier this month.

“The really great thing about this is that it’s connecting farms and expanding the market from Charlottesville to the rest of Virginia,” said Jessica Palmer, the nonprofit council’s Buy Fresh Buy Local coordinator.

Palmer said this site offers area chefs an idea of what’s available and in what quantity, which aids in menu planning. The program has quickly spread around the state.

“We sent it out to our three Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters that the Piedmont Environmental Council coordinates with,” Palmer said. “[We also shared it] with the six other Virginia chapters [of the PEC].”

The website is free and easy to join. Once a business signs up, participants can browse pricing, quantity and delivery methods of the products they wish to purchase.

Businesses can use spot buying, as well as contract buying if they wish to have a long-term specific commitment with a certain farm’s product.

There is also a section for surplus and seconds to encourage institutions such as food banks, canning facilities and larger commercial kitchens to pay attention to what’s on the site.

Farmer-Chef Express it built around “postings” of what is available or needed, making it easy to search for a desired product. There are also two Twitter accounts, one called ChefExpressVA for Restaurants and other buyers to post what they are looking for, and one called FarmExpressVA for farmers to post products they have available.

Harrison Keevil, head chef at Brookville Restaurant, said he joined Farmer-Chef Express because he feels it is important to make local food accessible to everyone and that there is no excuse not to support neighboring growers.

“All of our money is going right back to the community because that’s where we believe it belongs,” said Keevil. “It needs to stay here and support our economy, farmers and small-business owners.”

Those who live in an area that doesn’t have a Buy Fresh Buy Local chapter can still sign up for Farmer-Chef Express. Right now, the site covers Virginia, Maryland, Washington, West Virginia and North Carolina. Any farmer, restaurant, school or retailer in those areas is able to make a profile and search for products.

At Steadfast Farm, Walden cultivates high-quality grains, black beans and grass-fed beef. He sees a greater opportunity for success by having more people interested in farming and preserving existing farms.

“My hopes for this site are to build the relationships needed to sustain the market and get consistent large buyers who appreciate the farmer’s product,” Walden said.

Almost 20 farms already are offering items for sale in the online market.

More information about Farmer-Chef Express is available at www.buylocalvirginia.org.

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