by Matt Wilhalme
When FarmsReach launched in 2007 it sought to facilitate connections between farmers and buyers by focusing its efforts on resolving food distribution issues with an online portal to help local farmers get their produce into the hands of consumers and address the increasing demand for organic regionally grown food.
But after the product scaled to 26 states, at a time when founder Melanie Cheng expected these marketplaces to boom and locally grown produce to become available in more and more places, transactions and volumes decreased. The main problem, according to Cheng, wasn’t the venue or point of sale, it was the “pre-marketplace.”
“Ultimately, there are a lot of different obstacles to creating a truly sustainable food system and a lot of them initiate from farms’ lack of business skills, business resources and general viability,” said Cheng. “We need to rehabilitate farming as an occupation.”
Cheng’s new focus with FarmsReach is on developing pre-market tools to help farmers more efficiently tackle everything from pricing, pack and food safety to planning and purchasing. To do so, FarmsReach plans to provide farmers everywhere with logistical software tools and also to establish a group buying program, which will function in much the same way as group purchasing organizations (GPO) do for hospitals by aggregating the purchase of supplies needed on an ongoing basis, to reduce farm production costs.
The company is also working to aggregate online business resources and programs for farmers in one location where they can find information about everything from business and crop planning to water management and more.
“If we can just rehabilitate the first mile in the supply chain, then other stakeholders that are working downstream can more easily take it from there,” Cheng said. “There is no one tool that is going to save the day. It is going to require a lot of people and multiple tools working together.”
FarmsReach’s pivot in strategy grew out of a realization that farmers need more robust tools to address the logistical issues of getting their products from the farm to the buyer, Cheng said.
“I think that many farms across the country would agree they could benefit from improvements in their business skills and operations. Many farmers will tell you they could use help streamlining their ops and marketing,” Cheng said. Continue Reading →