March 8 is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the achievements of women. We’re proud to mark the occasion by sharing stories of inspirational local women who love where they live and rise to the challenges of life in our region.
Supply and demand rarely occur in the same place. Beef, pigs, sheep, fish, fruit and vegetables flourish in our region’s wide open spaces, but the customers are far away, in the cities and larger towns. Erica Hughes got them together, using technology to build a community.
“Sort of Tinder for produce,” Erica says of her role match-making producers, chefs and consumers on Farmer Meets Foodie, the north Queensland virtual produce market she created in 2016. “I started out wanting to connect producers to chefs and restaurants. I’d worked with a lot of producers who do landcare, good things for the country and animal welfare. I wanted to help producers tell those stories about the care that’s gone in to producing the food.”
Technology was moving fast, new apps made lots of things possible. “I was thinking there must be a way to connect those two sides of the market online,” Erica said. “Producers were really interested, looking for somewhere where they could get a better return, more than the average 10 per cent of the product’s final price. And they wanted a more transparent market. Many found their products on sale in local supermarkets, but they hadn’t sold to them. The products had been to Brisbane or Sydney by road, and back again. It’s not good for the quality or freshness, and it’s unnecessary road miles.”
Almost six years on, Farmer Meets Foodie is a busy virtual market, helping businesses and foodies source fresh local seasonal produce. It’s an easy and interactive way to find who has what growing and who is looking to buy in your local area. It’s showcasing far north Queensland produce, and cutting through COVID affected supply chains.
Its focus is proudly local, but the success of Farmer Meets Foodie has attracted interest from beyond the region. “Once we’ve had clear success with what we’re doing here, we’d really like to expand to the rest of the state, especially south-east Queensland, and into northern New South Wales. There’s been a lot of interest down there in what we’re doing. We’d like to take it there, and Australia-wide. We’ve had some interest from South-East Asia. Ultimately, we want to be able to create that space that gives farmers a fair return and reduces the food miles,” Erica said.
Farmer Meets Foodie is a marketplace, and a canny business model, out of which a community has grown. Erica has a real knack for working with, and building, communities. She lived an idyllic childhood on a cattle property at Dayboro, north of Brisbane. Erica aspired to being a park ranger, but changed her mind at university and went in to forestry and landcare. She moved to Atherton to work on a community reforestation program when the local timber industry was closed down. Eventually, the far north became home. Erica lives near Mount Molloy with husband Lindsay and their two children. She worked on a variety of projects for our predecessor company, Northern Gulf Resource Management Group.
Erica is excited by the success, and the potential, of Farmer Meets Foodie. “What we’re really aiming to do is to bring all the community together. We’ve made a place for them to communicate better. We all drive past each other every day, but we don’t necessarily know what food is available from where and how to get a hold of it. There were organisations working in this space for years, but I think we were able to expand on that by bringing people together online. We’re always working to make it better.”