Valley Bounty: Myers Produce
When Annie Myers founded Myers Produce in 2013, it wasn’t because she was tired of her farming job. Instead, she realized how much a regionally focused distribution company could help farmers like her by opening new markets, and she didn’t want to wait for someone else to start it.
Myers Produce’s goal is simple — linking local farms to more people who enjoy fresh local food. With bases in Hadley and Hardwick, Vermont, the company buys from producers across New England (mainly in Vermont and western Massachusetts) and sells to wholesale customers mostly in the urban centers of New York City and Boston.
Some are restaurants, but most are local grocers, from brick-and-mortar stores to online marketplaces and subscription services.
Over the years, they’ve remained true to their roots. “We built our company around the challenges of rural farming,” Myers says. “Our prices are farmer-driven, and because we’re a single buyer purchasing large volumes and handling delivery, it simplifies things for them.
“Farming is a full-time job,” she observes. “Sales coordination and delivery are pretty awesome services to provide farms so they don’t have to worry about those things themselves.”
The company’s approach is different from the traditional distribution model. As Myers explains, most produce distributors use an inventory system, buying from farmers first, stockpiling things, and then letting buyers purchase what they have. This system can lead to produce being less fresh, and unsold items becoming waste. To compensate for the expected loss in value, distributors might offer farmers a lower price for what they’re growing.
In contrast, Myers Produce uses a harvest-to-order model. As Myers explains, when supply and demand communicate better, we all win.
“The food we deliver has typically been harvested within 24 to 72 hours,” she says. “First we see what farms have available. Then we offer that to our buyers, and they order from us. Then we go back and order those products from the farm, pick them up, and deliver to our buyers. With this system we barely waste anything, so we can afford to pay our farmers more.”
The flexibility of Myers Produce also benefits the local food economy. Because they start by asking growers what’s available, they help align buyers with what’s in season. Plus, as Annie says, “We’re not married to one type of customer, and that’s helpful for us and the farmers we serve.”
For example, while COVID scrambled more rigid food supply chains, Myers Produce adapted and actually increased sales.
“Our orders were bigger than ever, but we sold to fewer customers and those customers were different,”Myers says. Restaurants bought less and retailers bought more, but through it all the company provided local farms with a consistent sales outlet.
If profit were their sole goal, Myers Produce would look different. “There’s a lot we do that could be considered inefficient because it requires more attention to farmers, or facilitating conversations among everyone we work with,” Myers says. But their vision is broader.
They work mainly with organic farms or those growing according to organic practices. “Being able to promote both local and organic is important to us, and to maintain a viable business doing both is notable, I think,” Myers says.
“We also source exclusively from producers in the Northeast, mostly within the Connecticut River Valley,” she says. By being intentionally regional in scope, Myers Produce acts as a bridge, lending economies of scale to local farms without erasing the benefits inherent in this kind of agriculture.
They also bridge rural and urban communities, a role that Annie is well-suited for.
“I’m from Brooklyn but have lived in northern Vermont for 10 years now,” she says. “I love both the city and farming communities, and there’s something really cool to me about connecting those worlds.”
While their full impact is hard to measure, feedback from partners lets Myers know they’re headed in the right direction.
“By our second year, we had farms telling us that they were expanding because of Myers Produce. That’s exactly why we do this!”
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA). For more ways to find local food in your area, check out CISA’s searchable online guide at buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally/.