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The refrain that the industrial food system is broken gets louder by the day.

local-dirtWith bestsellers like Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” decrying large-scale farms, and organic food now an $18.3 billion industry, LocalDirt wants to tap into demand for local and eco-conscious food. The startup company is launching at the DEMOfall 09 conference in San Diego this week, the technology conference co-produced by VentureBeat.

It connects buyers and sellers of locally-grown produce and meat and dairy products. It’s free for buyers like businesses, buying clubs and individuals, and it costs about $360 a year for sellers like cooperatives and farms. For distributors, it’s $720. LocalDirt says it doesn’t mark up food prices or charge a commission.

If you’re a buyer, you search for a product and find a producer nearby. You can look for produce that’s in season and search for farmers by user ratings and reputation.

LocalDirt sends invoices to both parties for records, but sellers have to contact customers directly to arrange payment and pickup. (That could be the startup’s Achilles Heel as consumers may want something dead-simple and delivered to their door.) While most customers may have to pick up orders from a specific location, some sellers may be able to deliver and that will be marked on their profiles.

In that case, LocalDirt could make itself more of a player by targeting independent grocers that want to be known for local products. LocalDirt says it’s different from other competitors because it has constantly updated information about producers and will roll out its service through farmers’ markets and then independent grocery stores. There are a few artisanal food e-commerce sites like Y Combinator-backed Foodoro and Foodzie, but those tend to focus on less perishable goods like jams, granola and caramel.



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