by Dorothee Royal-Hedinger
Today I had the pleasure of talking with Melanie Cheng, the founder of FarmsReach.com, a web platform that works to connect food producers with distributors, restaurants and new markets.
While working in the San Francisco sustainable food sector with Om Organics, Melanie noticed that supply and demand in her local food chain were not aligned, making the whole system unstable and inefficient at times. With Farmsreach she aims to help educate farmers both about business and technology so that they ultimately have more time to farm. (What a concept!)
Melanie mentions that it’s great to have more CSAs and farmers markets in an area but that distribution model only makes up a fraction of one percent of the market. She emphasizes that true change will come by getting sustainable food into conventional supply chains, at least in the short term. Farmsreach.com aims to help connect mid-size farmers with distributors, help small farmers reach out to new markets and help buyers buy more volume from growers.
The Farmsreach model will make prices, crop availability and demand more transparent for all involved. This type of standardization and streamlining has been done by many other industries (think: easy access to airplane ticket prices with Expedia and Travelocity) but it hasn’t been tried in the sustainable food sector until now. (Check out the recent WIRED article featuring Farmsreach that talks about the convergence of technology with sustainable food: Food Web, Meet Interweb: The Networked Future of Farms.)
At the moment, Farmsreach is working with real farmers and buyers to test and refine the web platform in the San Francisco area. Right now there are 75 San Francisco restaurants and farms participating, but eventually Melanie hopes to mobilize farmers and buyers across the country.
Don’t expect this to launch immediately though: Melanie is considerate about working with farmers at their own pace and invested in making sure the site addresses their needs. Ultimately, she says, “you have to have the trust of farmers.” Amen to that!