An Indianapolis-based startup is planting seeds of change it hopes can enhance the ways growers and producers get their products into the hands of customers. Kansas Citians are harvesting from it in bushels.
“This is definitely a business of passion for me,” Nick Carter said, recalling his upbringing and days spent on his family’s farm in Indiana.
“Our mission is to enable local food producers to compete successfully in local and regional markets.”
“We move product as directly as possible from producer to consumer using state-of-the-art online shopping technology, proprietary processes for supplier management, and innovative logistics approaches.”
As it goes, ups and downs in the U.S. economy eventually jeopardized the future of the farm. And amid such uncertainty, selling off its beef and pork became a challenge that could have sown disaster for the family’s legacy.
But Carter had an idea: build an e-commerce farmers market (and customers will come).
“Farmers markets are popular — and they’re everywhere — but they only reach a certain part of the population,” he explained, digging deeper into ways he hoped to capture the essence such markets provide and marry it with convenience.
“We could unlock the whole world of e-commerce shoppers who need more convenience and delivery to their door — and make it available to all kinds of farmers and food producers just like us.”
The thought ultimately produced MarketWagon — a virtual farmers market launched in 2017 with dealings in 20 states (including Kansas and Missouri) and dozens of cities within each one.
Carter’s dad was his first customer.
“We’ve been farming for four generations. Through the 70s and 80s the mantra of farming was, ‘Get back or get out.’ It was all about increasing the land that you produce on and on producing commodities — corn and soil,” Carter explained, noting that over time such a mindset meant less and less income.
“What [Market Wagon] has been able to do is create a new revenue stream. … We have the customers that will buy [grass fed beef.] The farm that would have wasted away and not been able to be passed onto a new generation is now thriving again and we’re starting to talk about my kids, my nieces and nephews — the grandkids coming into the farm, which I think is really special for my dad.”
The value Market Wagon provides is also special for Kansas City-area-based brands that include the likes of Long Lost Cold Brew, Riverwatch Beef, Lucky Elixir Kombucha, Bloom Baking Company, Taco Naco, and Wiener Kitchen — all of which are able to thrive in the e-commerce business thanks to the rapid expansion of the startup amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
How it works:
- Order from local farms & artisans. You pick the farms you want to buy from and what food you want for the week.
- The farmers & artisans gather together to bring all of the items that you ordered and prepare for delivery on a regular basis (typically Thursday mornings).
- Once we’ve collected all your items, we deliver your order to your home, office, or you can pickup at a Market Host for free.
Click here to learn more about the Market Wagon process.
“We heard from farmers that, essentially, we saved their farms,” Carter said of the past two years of operation which saw the startup expand its team from three people to more than 70 and complete two funding rounds — having secured backing of Chicago-based Hyde Park Venture Partners and Jeff Weiner, executive chairman of Linkedin in addition to other support.
“We were in the right place at the right time. We had spent four years building a playbook for what it looked like to open [in new markets.] We knew that to be able to carry out our vision we needed to be able to repeatedly open new geographies with our model,” he continued, adding that up until March 2020 Market Wagon had expanded into only six locations between Indiana and Ohio.
“Then the world went upside down and suddenly we had this need to be in as many places as possible in order to serve the farmers whose markets were shut down, their restaurants were shut down and they had food they needed to get out.”
In under a year, Market Wagon launched in 27 new locations. Carter hopes to establish a presence in 120 cities by 2024.
“The producers that come onto our platform, many of them are first generation farmers or new startups themselves — coffee, bakeries, food artisans. To watch them grow their companies on Market Wagon is just tremendous,” he said.
“We enable food producers to thrive. And we know that there are so many [people] who would love to buy local, but it just isn’t convenient. We’re trying to bridge that gap. … It’s why we do what we do.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.