Local Line was created to help local farmers succeed as independent entrepreneurs. The reality is that more local farmers have to find a way to get to market better, faster, and cheaper in order to prosper. Since our founding in 2015, Local Line is now used by farmers across Canada, USA, and Australia to help them sell more product, organize their business data, and save time.
Coming from an entrepreneurial family, Local Line Founder and CEO Cole Jones wanted to create something that would be impactful, innovative, and actually mattered: “You have to pick something that you think is impactful and matters to the world. You have to really want to see what you’re working on accomplished in the world”.
Cole was raised in the city and didn’t know anything about farming prior to starting Local Line. In fact, Local Line was originally born out of research on food systems. Back in 2015, new research showed that farmers markets were expanding rapidly in North America, but small farmers had stagnant income. This seemed odd, and it was natural to keep investigating to find out why.
After spending hours speaking to farmers, food producers, food hub operators, and market managers, it became evident that local food needed help: “It was figuring out that I loved our customers. Seeing the kind of people that they are, seeing the families that they have, how hard they work, what that lifestyle means to them, what their calling and their purpose is. They do noble work!” says Cole, “I thought, I’ve never been around that growing up in the city, and I would love to be able to work with these folks”.
The next step was to develop the product. A product needed to be created to allow food suppliers to reach new markets by selling online. In addition to e-commerce, the product needed sales and distribution management abilities to track sales and organize the ordering process. The earliest version of Local Line looked VERY different than it does today, but the mission remains the same.
“It’s funny, for me, the vision has never changed. The strategy may have changed, but the vision has remained the same - we want to help farmers (more specifically, local, independent, family farms) secure their future. And the best way to do that is owning your relationship with your customers and having the tools to run your business in a way that is profitable to you”.
Now, a few years into the journey, Local Line has a well-developed product, a team of 11, and customers that continue to inspire each of us. To reflect on this journey, we sat down with Cole and Rob Barreca, our Product Manager, to see what they’ve learned and what they hope to see in the future.
Local Line has always been about bridging the gap between farming and the internet. Rob, joining Local Line as Product Manager in Jan 2019, has a very unique perspective on the product. With a background in tech, Rob found his passion for farming after starting his own farm and food hub with his partner. Immediately after joining the industry, he knew that local food needed to be online: “Using an online system to run your business is invaluable. As a farmer and small business owner, you have a backlog of tasks that need to be done continuously. When you run your business manually, your system becomes fragile and error-prone, as one delivery or order change can knock the whole system. An online system acts as a framework for all your tasks - making it more resilient, manageable, and repeatable!”
As a business develops, the strategy and the day-to-day goals change. When asking Cole what advice he would give to new farmers, he says: “Get a mentor! There is so much to be learned from an established farmer. The best knowledge is passed on from individuals that have lived through it. Reading can only take you so far. Find a mentor and ask how they did it! It is so important to have a support system that understands what you’re going through.”
Rob shares, “If I could give advice to new and established farmers, it would be that using an online tool requires a conceptual shift. You need to be open to new tech and give yourself some time to adjust. Paying for a tool may take away from your bottom line, but the value it adds to your business is magnitudinal. Your time is valuable, and if you can become more efficient through making a switch, it’s worth it.”
The future 's looking bright! Local Line is very excited for what’s to come. Rob and the product team are working on creating a better product each day, as well as planning new features for the future to help the local food industry to combat the challenges it faces daily.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is the lack of visibility and transparency in supply and demand. For example, knowing, as a farmer, what I should and shouldn’t grow. With technology, we should be able to give new farmers a recipe for success, instead of them having to figure out what to sell without any real data to support the decision. Providing access to data about supply and demand will bring stability to the local food system. In the future, Local Line will be able to navigate this process and provide digestible information to farmers and buyers”, exclaims Rob when describing his vision.
When asking Cole the plans for the future, he says that in addition to core e-commerce functions, Local Line will expand into areas like logistics, online markets, traceability, and even media. “The long term vision is to be a true infrastructure to support the operational and financial sustainability of family farms. Local food is good for society over all, and there are so many opportunities to build great applications that unify local producers with customers. We feel blessed to be positioned to work in this space and work towards our mission for a long time to come.”