Your local farmer’s market is now online
By Claire Wolfe
Issue #150 • November/December, 2014
When last we visited with our friends at Earthineer (Issue 131, September/October 2011), they were just getting started. Dan Adams, long-time computer programmer and recent convert to homesteading, DIY, and local sourcing, had built a social network for rural folk that I described then as “Facebook for farmers (but way more useful).”
It’s been three years. Time again to stop by this online “neighbor” and see what Earthineer is up to. As it turns out: big things. In fact, after years of development, Dan has finally created the very thing he wanted Earthineer to be in the first place: a local marketplace and barter forum.
Since its beginning, Earthineer has been a place where rural people could post information about their specialties, from mushroom harvesting to cheese-making, and get help from experienced people. Now members can also go online and trade with each other. As of summer 2014, you can sell your apples or chickens and buy someone else’s jellies, knitwear, herbs, or lambs. You can do a traditional trade where money changes hands or swap your goods or services for theirs. You can define a local area you want to trade within or look for trading partners anywhere. You can make lists of your wants so others can contact you or you can seek out the items you need.
Better yet, the trades are private (as far as Earthineer is concerned). The marketplace simply puts the traders together. You decide how to make your trade — whether to meet face-to-face in the real world or use shipping services. You and your trading partner decide on the form of payment or the quantities to be bartered and go for it. Earthineer does not even keep a long-term record; a week after the trade, the history gets deleted from the system. So it’s as close to an old-fashioned farmer-to-farmer horsetrade as it gets.
Dan explains: “Earthineer isn’t a barter exchange. We don’t set the value of items or offer an alternative currency. We don’t make any money off of the barter. We just make the connection. As such, we have no interest in holding (or being responsible for) that data.”
Screenshots from Earthineer show its different pages. Top to bottom: Marketplace, individual listing, and the discover page, which shares information
Earthineer now has 34,000 members and about a quarter million page views per month, so the potential market is substantial and growing. The marketplace forum is new and will take some time to build up a critical mass of traders. When I first tried it out, just weeks after its opening, I saw several tempting offerings but nothing within either of the local areas I’d defined, a 30-mile radius and a 50-mile radius from my zip code. I could still trade, as long as what I was looking for, or what I had to offer, was practical to ship.
The online market has already proved to be a big draw, though. Dan reports that Earthineer membership almost doubled within a month after the marketplace/barter forum opened. Traders are bringing others in via word-of-mouth to increase traffic and sales. Dan himself has helped create and promote several local trading groups. Forming such groups could be easy and beneficial for any rural community. For instance, in my area we have both a very active Grange and several existing (non-agricultural) buy-sell networks based on Facebook. It would take very little for these existing groups to bring their foodie/locavore/livestock/craft trades to Earthineer. And it makes sense to do so since the site is purpose-built for exactly that type of trading, and is friendly and well-structured for it, besides.
It’s ironic that it took five years of development before the marketplace became a reality, given that the need for it inspired Earthineer’s creation in the first place — and given that the marketplace/barter function will almost certainly become the site’s central feature.
Why so long in the making? Dan admits, “I’ve always been an overly optimistic person. I vastly underestimated the amount of time it would take.” That being said, he also put Earthineer through a drastic redesign in the meantime. He rebuilt it from the ground up. He added a popular feature that lets people “pin” interesting items they want to share with others. Among the new features I like best are the interest groups — groups like Beekeeping, Canning, Fermenting, Heirloom Gardening, Composting, Poultry, Young-uns on the Homestead, Firearms, Capriculture, Off-grid Solar, and Alternative Energy. Members can create custom groups and join existing ones to share information with like-minded others.
The rebuild took a while. And of course, as it does for all of us, just plain living got in the way. Fences had to be built at the Adams homestead, gardens prepped, livestock shelters constructed, and the place generally tended to while Dan was working on the site. So Earthineer’s new features developed more slowly than planned. But they got created by someone who’s walking the walk and knows what rural people need in an online marketplace and social network.