Student Connects Farmers and Customers with E-Commerce Platform
While many college students work various jobs to support their education, few students also launch a start-up technology business. Meet Jake Grim, Penn State Mont Alto senior business management and marketing major, founder of Table Rock Markets and an AgChoice jumpstart grant winner.
Table Rock Markets is an online platform that connects consumers with local farmers. Named after the road Jake grew up on in Adams County, farmers sign up with Table Rock Markets to list their products for sale. Customers place their orders in a virtual shopping cart, pay and designate their pick up time at a local farmer’s markets.
As a member of both his high school FFA chapter and Technology Student Association (TSA), Jake connected his agricultural and technology passions, a preview of his future. “I fell in love with FFA – the life lessons, the public speaking and interview experience – and seeing the fruits of our labor,” Jake shared. His TSA partner in projects and national competition wins, Hunter Dubbs, is a Table Rock Markets co-founder.
An Idea Launches
During the spring of 2020, a local fruit farmer asked Jake for help managing his online inventory system for retail sales. “It was taking six hours a week to manage product orders for customers to pick up at 15 different farmer’s markets,” Jake remembered. “While the farmer’s customers loved ordering online, and it was financially beneficial to him, the time spend was frustrating.”
Recognizing an opportunity to create a more efficient system, Jake asked the farmer if he would pilot a new platform. With the farmer’s commitment, Jake and Hunter started working on their concept in September 2020.
As they continued to refine their new platform in early 2021, the trio began entering competitions, totaling eight, including several with Penn State University. “The competitions made us question every angle and gave us confidence and strength in our idea,” said Jake. “We finished first in a few of the competitions and even met with Penn State President Eric Barron. In total, we received $15,000 in prize money that helped us gain further traction.”
In April 2021, Jake and his team released a beta version of Table Rock Markets. After an additional three months of testing, Table Rock Markets launched in July 2021, moving 200 of their pilot farm’s customers to the new platform in phases. It was a major undertaking, but with “our talented team we fixed glitches as they happened,” shared Jake. “Our most stressful moment was when the site crashed because there were too many people on it. We rebuilt the communication portal with no further issues.”
Today, Table Rock Markets has 1,100 users who consistently order on a weekly basis. In four months, their pilot fruit farmer logged $192,000 in online sales. “It’s cool to see how technology can make a financial difference,” reflected Jake. “We’re onboarding 10 farmer vendors now and are excited for the future.”
What type of farm business could benefit from the Table Rock Markets platform? “Any farm with direct to consumer sales,” Jake explained. “Size and product offerings don’t matter. The platform is designed to be ‘farmer-friendly’ and not complicated.” There is no fee to enroll as a Table Rock Markets vendor and no subscription fee.
Each transaction at Table Rock Markets includes a processing fee to cover credit card fees and 2% that funds Table Rock Markets’ expenses and business investment. “We encourage our farmers to sell slightly higher (5%) on the platform to cover the costs of providing high quality local products, with convenience, to customers,” said Jake.
Vendor and customer convenience will further improve as Table Rock Markets makes plans to build and launch a mobile app in 2022, supported by the jumpstart grant funding.
“Our goal is to help farmers become more profitable and sustainable,” concluded Jake. “As an example, produce in this country travels, on average, 1,500 miles from farm to table. We want to keep agricultural products to a 100-miles radius improving both the economic and environmental benefits for our vendors and customers.”
To learn more visit: tablerockmarkets.com
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