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  • Wayne Roberts

    This is a very important article because it identifies the problems faced by innovative food as all being in the distribution field. Although we don't ever want to minimize the hard work or challenges in fishing and farming, the biggest obstacles today are in distribution, and I would add marketing.
    We've mastered small-scale production and distribution; now we need to get to scaling up infrastructure.
    The argument I pose in two of my most recent books -- No Nonsense Guide to World Food and Food for City Building -- is that public sector and public purpose purchases are the key to scaling up. They provide volume orders, and they have a latitude to order, pay for and appreciate something that carries a 10 per cent premium.
    If we start on a continuous improvement basis, 10 % the first year and 5% each year after until 50%, that makes the cost of the first year program less than 1% -- a paltry cost of the many new jobs and environmental benefits received. Indeed, experience shows that the transition can be managed simply through savings from engaging customers in reducing food waste.
    We're on the edge of something very exciting.

    • Every Last Morsel

      Yes, having home cooked meals (that use local ingredients) is definitely a way to help small farmers. This is a cool solution to unhealthy fast food, and an excellent way to share recipes!

  • Julenne Esquinca

    I thank you for posting this and let us know the issues that American farmers face nowadays, sometimes in other countries we think america doesn't face these kinds of issues. But for example Mexico being a third world country that would be the top of the iceberg of the main issues in my country. I think it's pretty good that we dedicate some time thinking about a sector that we citizens rarely see, In mexico we don't have things like farmers market, sometimes some thematic fairs and stuff like that but not iniciatives so good as the farmers market.

  • Phil Weiner

    This is what I was trying to tackle when I created the Nourishmat (http://www.nourishmat.com) and what I am trying to do with UrbnEarth (http://www.UrbnEarth.com). We can't rely on the government to educated; market based approaches like Apple's iPhone will change consumer behavior by design. It starts with community then soil. You can 't force people to eat certain foods because of differences in tastes, cultures and soils. Distribution is not the answer. Empower and educate as well.

  • peptidemel

    Don't forget price. I find local food severely over-priced and cannot buy.

  • Josh Treuhaft

    Also worth checking out Local Orbit (http://www.localorb.it/). It's another system-level solution to many of the problems you've raised. Basically an enterprise software platform for farmers to enable better inventory management, supply chain mgmt, logistics and creating networks / markets for local food systems to become more tightly woven.

    • Todd Jones

      Good find Josh. That's a rather astute description. Have you worked with Local Orbit? Have you spent any time designing solutions to these problems yourself?

  • Katrina Mitchell

    And waste. In some places nearly half of the food produced is wasted in processing, transit and because of a lack of distribution centers with the right technology to keep food from rotting before it hits the market.

    • Todd Jones

      Thanks for sharing Liz! I wasn't aware of this program. Have you been through the course yourself?

  • Elyse Petersen

    Todd, thanks for the great lesson and discussion. This is very important! Stay on your journey and educate. We can all do our part to demand more connections and transparency. Technology can help! I think we also need to think beyond the label and demand a more connected story about where our products come from and who made them. Did you see my post about issues with Organic and Fairtrade certification? http://www.good.is/posts/sustainable-sourcing-of-teas

    • Todd Jones

      I sure did! And I couldn't agree more. I think the future of "standards" like Organic and Fairtrade will inch ever-closer to complete transparency.

  • noisyblocks

    Small farms need the marketing tools and web/graphic designers like me need the work. So how do we meet?

    Another interesting developing for local farms is the "Veggie Box" concept; each week we a veggie box is delivered to our workplace (actually, one for our neighbors too) full of things from local farms. So it's one big delivery in one go and convenient for consumers too.

    • Todd Jones

      I love the idea of designers and farmers sitting around the same table. Maybe you can host one of these: http://www.good.is/posts/host-a-garden-party

      Also, I think that capitalizing on economies of density, not economies of scale, is a brilliant idea. Getting veggie boxes to people at work seems like a great way to do this!

      • noisyblocks

        Sorting out what challenges local farmers generally face is probably fine for an initial sit-down, but in the long run it calls for something more structured.

        It's essentially a business model: A place for local farmers, who are tight on time, to get the kinds of marketing materials, promotional tools and technology they need from designers, marketers, copywriters who understand their challenges.

        • Todd Jones

          I agree, and this conversation has got me thinking. I wonder if educational institutions or other design groups could partner with farmers during the off-season to develop marketing materials & strategies for the summer months.

          In addition to the content and strategy I think it's also a network problem -- connecting with the right customers at the right time. That's the problem we're trying to solve (http://www.everylastmorsel.com/).

          • noisyblocks

            Why "educational institutions"? To get the work for free? And do you really want to trust your farm's next selling season to a 15-year-old's homework assignment?

            No, it would need to be a sustainable, profit-making business opportunity to *attracts* the right people: smart, savvy creatives and thinkers who can bring real firepower to the table. With enough critical mass, it would become an affordable solution for local farmers who don't have time or money to waste on amateur hour. That's my take.

            • Todd Jones

              Nobody wants to work with amateurs but connecting groups with groups is a good way to start connecting people one-on-one.

              • noisyblocks

                I understand the logic, but I think it will quickly bump up against reality: nobody has time to spare these days, not just farmers.

                IMVHO it would have the best chance of starting strong--and succeeding strong--if it's presented as a sensible business-building opportunity where both groups understand how they stand to gain.

                What can I say...self-marketing for 10 years has taught me that there's no free lunch (let alone a healthy one!).

  • Simeon Chapin

    Great move to call attention to what can be done for GOOD rather than bring more attention to what is wrong. We all need to stay positive!

    Farmers To You (http://farmerstoyou.com) is a partnership of families and farmers building a marketing and distribution model that we want to prove and then share with others to build sustainable, trustworthy, efficient, vibrant, and regenerative local/regional foodsheds.

    We handle the food from farm to family in a weekly rhythm that gives the farmers more time on their farm and families more time in their kitchens and at their tables.

    Each of our pickup sites in the Boston Metro area is a hub for local food micro markets and collectively create a strong and educated market for local food. We grow primarily through word of mouth and one to one conversations.

    One key piece that is missing from this post is the financial challenge. Access to quality debt that is reasonable, fair and committed to local food is needed in this space. We've been lucky to connect with partners at the VSJF Flex Capital Fund in Vermont and Sprout Lenders in Boston.

    This is a great conversation! Let's keep it going!

    • Todd Jones

      Keep up the great work Simeon! It sounds like you should connect with my friend Colin Davis at Something GUD (http://somethinggud.com/).

      As for your parting comment about finances, you're exactly right. Farmers need access to capital just like any other business. Here in the Midwest every year we have an event called The Good Food Festival (http://www.familyfarmed.org/goodfood/), which dedicates an entire day to food finance.

      • Simeon Chapin

        Nice! - please put Colin in touch. I'm aware of somethinggud and would be happy to be in touch.

  • Sharla Kew

    It seems like the marketing and education side of things has a pretty good start, looking through the links people have mentioned (http://www.goodeggs.com/, http://mfarm.co.ke/, http://growinghomeinc.org/).

    Data Management is going to be a completely different challenge. The problem is how to bring convenient digital organization and information logging to tasks that one simply cannot do in front of a computer. Voice recognition technology on mobile devices could be a viable solution, or part of a solution.
    Imagine a farmer in a hen house picking up eggs. He counts out loud, and his mobile device automatically keeps up with him and then enters the final number into a spreadsheet with the date and time.
    This is the bare beginning of an idea, and it's possible that voice recognition technology is not where it needs to be, but things like the MotoX's "always listening" feature makes me think that it's at least close.

    • Todd Jones

      I think the process needs to begin with the crop plan, which can be made on the computer during the off season. Then, throughout the growing season, the crop plan can be edited on mobile to reflect reality, so when you finish picking your crops you can enter the numbers in the field and move on to the next task.

      What do you think?

      • Simeon Chapin

        Tracking of product from seed to field to storage all the way through distribution will be increasingly important as well when lot tracking and sourcing transparency become mandatory.

    • Crystal Groover

      I like this voice recognition idea. It's definitely a something that could work wonders. Another challenge, however, would be the training for the farmers to use it. I currently work in an events planning facility as IT support. All of our work revolves around technology, but there are still a few people who I need to push to learn new systems (systems as small and simple as gmail). I think that maybe this is something that needs to be started small.. shown maybe through example.

      Just as people step up and voluntarily work at Non Profits to save children and battered women and individuals struggling in poverty, people should step up and volunteer on farms --even administratively. This way, from the home-body to the outdoorsy-type, everyone would have a place to help on a farm.

  • Peter Kuhns

    The future of farming starts in your own backyard. And it involves teaching everyone - especially suburbanites and urbanites - the insane amount of food that can be grown in tiny gardens.

    How could that possibly help commercial farmers?

    Answer: There are some things urban gardeners just can't grow because of space - watermelons, corn, all the stone fruits, etc. When people start growing their own food, and learning what they can and cannot fit/excel at, they'll seek out other sources. And search for sources who farm/garden the same way they do. Locally.

    It all starts at home.

  • Johan Steneros

    I totally agree. There is lot of talk about how bad everything is GMO's, monsanto, food crisis, carbon footprints. However there are few initiatives being talked about. I have just started a iPhone App project that seeks bring organic farmers and end consumers together. Please check out the post here. I'd love to hear what everyone thinks. http://www.good.is/posts/lets-get-grow-crowd-app-fully-funded

  • Lloyd Lutterman

    We let corporations control farming industry, it's few communal endeavors today. Corporations are all about bottom line profits, not people/consumers or their health. My bigger concerns are amount of GMO poisons we're consuming and environmentally destruction we allow capitalist to profit while committing. Our world would have developed differently had we left oil in the ground as it was meant.

  • Lisa Kitinoja

    There are lots of free educational materials for small farmers who want to try direct marketing, higher value crops (Fruits and vegetables), food storage, adding value to raw foods, etc. -- check out The Small Farm Center at UC Davis (sfp.ucdavis.edu/) or Cornell (smallfarms.cornell.edu/) and postharvest handling practices at UC Davis (postharvest.ucdavis.edu) and The Postharvest Education Foundation (www.postharvest.org).

    • noisyblocks

      Great idea; hadn't seen this.

      I don't know if home growing is quite as cut and dry as the Apple products example; the latter are clean, shiny, mobile cultural expressions/status symbols. Hmm.

  • Phil Weiner

    This is what I was trying to tackle when I created the Nourishmat (http://www.nourishmat.com) and what I am trying to do with UrbnEarth (http://www.UrbnEarth.com). We can't rely on the government to educated; market based approaches like Apple's iPhone will change consumer behavior by design. It starts with community then soil. You can 't force people to eat certain foods because of differences in tastes, cultures and soils. Distribution is not the answer. Empower and educate.

    • noisyblocks

      Great idea; hadn't seen this.

      I don't know if home growing is quite as cut and dry as the Apple products example; the latter are clean, shiny, mobile cultural expressions/status symbols. Hmm.

    • Todd Jones

      Amen Phil! That's exactly what we're trying to do with Every Last Morsel (http://www.everylastmorsel.com/). I'm a big fan of your project. Keep up the good work and let me know if there's anything we can do to help!

  • Emily Friedman

    The marketing issue you mention is really interesting and seems to be a problem all over the world. Check out this group in Kenya called M-Farm that developed an innovative solution to linking farmers to buyers/markets: http://mfarm.co.ke/

    • Todd Jones

      I'm a huge fan of M-Farm. It'll be exciting to see what happens in developing nations like Kenya as they continue to leapfrog into new technologies like cell phones and the mobile web.

  • Molly Ganley

    yes. making the "right" choices easy is incredibly important. i'm excited to see everylastmorsel.com launch soon.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    It seems like everything you're bringing up could lead to really great job opportunities within the agricultural world. I love this program in Chicago, Growing Home. They provide jobs for locals looking to reenter the workforce. http://growinghomeinc.org

  • Hillary Newman

    Have you heard of GOOD Eggs (http://www.goodeggs.com)? They launched in SF and are now in a couple of cities. They help connect the farmer to the consumer through a virtual farmers market.

    • Todd Jones

      Yep! GOOD Eggs is doing GOOD work. They're squarely focused on the problems of marketing and distribution.