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Online Network for Local Farmers Hits Pay Dirt An online effort to connect farmers with consumers trying to buy local gets a million-dollar VC infusion.

By Gwen Moran Edited by Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Heather Hilleren of Local Dirt.When she worked as a team leader at Whole Foods Market from 1996 to 2005 in Madison, Wis., it drove Heather Hilleren crazy when the retail giant, which prided itself on working with local farmers, had trouble finding and buying from them. She watched as one store's pool of farmers shrank from nearly two dozen to just a few.

Some farmers failed to drop off price sheets or were hard to reach to confirm pricing changes. Buyers would have to purchase from a regional distribution center to fill supply demands, Hilleren says. Produce often came from several states away and wouldn't be as fresh as customers expected, so sales would suffer.

"We ended up throwing out $600 worth of morel mushrooms because they went bad," she recalls. "We ordered a pallet of sweet corn. I know it was at least a week from when it was harvested before we got it on the shelf. It looked perfect, but it tasted like a potato." She estimates the store threw away three-quarters of the pallet.

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