by Alexis Madrigal
Silicon Valley thinks the internet can transform anything from car sales to anonymous sex, but the way Americans grow and buy food is rooted in ancient, offline systems.
Now, a Bay Area startup has launched a service to make it easier and cheaper for restaurants to buy food from small, local farms. With a suite of mobile apps for use in restaurants and on farms, FarmsReach wants to create an online food marketplace that would directly connect farms with restaurants.
“The food supply industry is ripe for ‘disintermediation’ because of the internet,” said Alistair Croll, a startup consultant working with FarmsReach. In other words, middlemen beware: Food could undergo a transition like the one that swept through classified ads, air travel and dozens of other industries.
If that happens, it could begin to transform the food system, and that would be welcome news for food activists. The problems of the food system have been well-chronicled over the last few years: environmental degradation, occasional food-borne disease outbreaks and millions of overweight Americans.
While these issues are receiving attention from many organizations, both inside and outside of the agricultural sector, information flow could be the hidden lever inside the food system. The current system does a remarkably good job of concealing how food is grown and by whom. Lettuce planted halfway around the world looks pretty much like lettuce grown around the corner. Farmers have a hard time showing the value they add and being recognized for innovative practices.
The current distribution of edibles works the way it does, though, because it’s brutally effective at reliably delivering low-cost food all over the country. Sysco, the dominant $13 billion American food distributor, works and restaurants know that.
“The big problem in small agriculture is supply chain resiliency,” Croll said. “Chefs order from Sysco because they know, no matter what, they’ll get their orders or there is an account rep they can strangle.” Continue Reading →