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Foodshed.io: Solving local sourcing for major retailers from small and medium farms

We make it simple for large buyers to source locally grown produce to meet growing demand for these products in industrialized countries.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Foodshed.io

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

N/A

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.foodshed.io

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

St. Louis, Missouri

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

A five state region centered around the St. Louis Foodshed. States include Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

This region is perfect for proving that a local speciality crop (produce) model can work in any four season climate and mainstream economy in the United States.  Working together with major regional grocer, Schnucks, we are working on a goal of sourcing at least 10% of their produce from within 250 miles of any of their store locations within 3 years.    Schnucks grocery serves all socioeconomic levels in the regions they serve, allowing fresh, local, seasonal produce to be accessible to all walks of live, in many locations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at an affordable price point.   Farmers in this region will greatly benefit from increased access to this market, as well has help with GAP certifications, logistical support as well as quality assurance guidelines we can help them achieve together.    St. Louis is becoming a hub for Agricultural Technologies.  Foodshed has participated in the Yield Lab incubator based in the region.  We have a strong foundation to achieve results that can be quickly applied to other regions across the country. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

From the outside looking in, the five state area around the St. Louis foodshed looks like a haven for fast food consumption.  Obesity is a major concern in this region.  It is also the home of Bayer Plant Science (formerly Monsanto) and in many respects, a great deal of the agriculture in these states involve corn & soy.   The specialty crop farmer movement is growing, as commodity prices continue to tumble - and farmers look for ways to serve better markets as well as produce better crops for their communities.  There is a concern for the reduction of top soil in this region and a growing movement towards sustainable, regenerative agriculture which our efforts would accelerate. 


In terms of tastes and seasons, this is a four season climate - that presently does have the ability to grow locally year round.  Access and distribution has been a major logjam as the demand from the consumer is there.  During our tests this past year, sales of our local produce exceeded the conventional products it replaced, reducing the ‘pitch rate’ or the amount of produce that’s thrown away from spoilage due to lack of sales.  


The urban areas of St. Louis and the surrounding communities are incredibly diverse, both in ethnicity and economic status.  We are serving all of them.  In the wake of Ferguson, this community is still struggling from its racial divides.  Our work has made strides in building bridges between urban communities, black citizens and white rural farmers, through business relationships and cultural understanding in what different communities would like to have grown locally.   There is also a sizeable, but often underappreciated asian and hispanic community in this region that would strongly desire better access to local, fresh seasonal produce.   

This region is a microcosm of most areas of the United states, bringing together, south, east, north and western cultures - and thus, proving our model here has big ramifications for our ability to quickly expand anywhere in the United States. 

There is presently very little access to fresh local produce.   Despite its fertile soil and rich farmland, Missouri agriculture is dominated by commodity crops, including soybeans, corn, cattle, hogs, and turkey (Missouri Department of Agriculture). However, the local fruits and vegetable industry is struggling to gain traction with the lack of support for local produce growers, lack of access and education to consumers, and the misrepresentation of “local” from retailers.  Missouri is known for its agricultural industry and is one of the top growers of corn and soy in the nation, but many residents have become detached from its’ role in their lives. 



What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

689049

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

41340000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current challenges: 

Small to Mid-Sized producers of fresh fruits and vegetables in Missouri face difficulties connecting with adequate sales avenues to financially sustain their farms. Conversely, buyers struggle to maintain a supply of product to sell to their customers. 

There is a lack of education on growing local produce and consumers are unwilling to pay higher prices for local goods.  Due to this slow-climbing demand, buyers are less inclined to source local without a likely pay-off from consumers purchasing these goods.  

 

Future challenges: 

Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important component of a healthy diet.  As Produce Prescriptions become a reality, an abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables will be required to meet demand.  With the barriers small to mid-sized growers face, they run the risk of being overlooked in favor or larger growers with resources to better meet the demands placed on them by the buyers. Farmers will continue to face the obstacle of growing large enough quantities to compete in larger markets, reducing their amount of opportunities to make an income.  Unable to compete with large scale out-of-state growers, farms will lose viability in their lack of agency, tolerance for risk, and profitability.  

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The greatest barriers to entry for small scale producers are access to market and quantity minimums. Foodshed.io provides an e-commerce aggregation platform that removes both of these barriers and enable them to access new buyers similarly to the way institutions do. Farmers are easily connected to a variety of buyers who can purchase and pay for goods entirely through the app. Foodshed.io strives to connect rural farmers with urban consumers to strengthen the economic standing of rural producers and encourage local food consumption. We believe that Foodshed.io provides a new marketing strategy that is essential for the integration of rural farmers into city markets. 

Farmers have the power to set their own prices and delivery standards via a mobile platform, while buyers have a standard platform through which to place a majority of their orders (produce, dairy, meat, value-added products). Foodshed.io aggregates like goods so that buyers can easily fulfill large orders through a number of producers, ensuring that producers will not be shut out of market due to issues of quantity. Foodshed.io helps increase income for rural producers by enabling them to access new markets.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Residents of this five-state region will enjoy a significantly different experience and relationship to farming and produce.  By introducing local produce and variety, they will have a superior product for about the same price they are paying right now, available, in most cases, 24/7.  This region presently lacks access to this type of produce at all most times of the year.  


When we have local produce in stock, it has sold well.  Right now what’s available travels on average 1,500 miles to get to the store and is designed for shelf life.  It lacks flavor, and since in many cases it is not picked when its ripe, it has less nutrients than the local, ripened varieties we will be bringing to the store.  


In terms of farmers, they will have a much easier way of getting their products to market, with the security of being able to plan their seasons in advance, knowing they will have a buyer for their produce.  Over the course of years, this will encourage more farmers to enter the specialty crop (produce) marketplace as well as solidify and grow the farmers that presently are trying to operate in this marketplace.  We will also push regenerative practices through our buying power, working with farmers by not just giving them a mandate to produce in a regenerative way, but also to have the financing to change their practices over time.  

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Environment - Reducing the time it takes for produce to get to market has serious impacts to our carbon footprint.  Presently most produce travels over 1,500 miles to come to this region. We will reduce that to less than 100 miles or less.  

This region is also heavily known for commodity crop farming.  Specialty crop, regenerative farming has the ability to actually reduce the carbon footprint.  In addition, regenerative practice will allow farmers to take greater care of top soil, something of great concern to this region.  By establishing this full, local food system, we will build regenerative practice into everything we do, thus making the new food system one that actually helps our environment, instead of threatens it. 


Diets, - Many of the residents in the five state region the obstacles of purchasing healthy produce are cost, access and quality.  Even high-end markets at high price points have a hard time supplying quality local produce from the region.  This leaves most people in this region, overweight and often malnourished, opting for more processed foods.  We will make high quality, local produce, that’s allowed to ripen on the vine, available 24/7 a week at places where they presently buy groceries at prices they can afford.  Through our marketing efforts, we will also make local produce fun and cool!   


Economics, - The major impact on economics that our program will have is through our work with small and medium size farmers at the beginning of the season and providing the economic security to plan their season ahead of time, maximizing the opportunities.  The economic benefits of roughly $5m in local buying power brought to the communities in this 5 state region, is the largest local food purchasing commitment ever.  This will ripple, not just through to the farms, but their employees and suppliers in the region.  Our goal is to keep farmers on their land and farming.  And through our marketplace, we will also realize the best crops farmers can grow for the best return.  Nothing like this presently exists in the specialty crop (produce) market in this region and our country. 

 

Culture - The local food culture in these states is one of low-cost and convenience.  It has created an overweight and malnourished population.  People do not have a relationship to food, farming or nature.  Consumers are incredibly removed from the growing process and have little idea of the work farmers put in to produce the food they purchase at the supermarket.  Through the foodshed program, that will all change.  People who are presently buying produce will notice the flavor and quality improvements almost immediately.  We will build on the idea that people should keep checking back to look for what’s in season, and everytime they come to the store, something new and amazing will be there.  We will then bring this concept to the country.  People will become familiarized with the growers who have worked hard to provide fresh produce and will prioritize buying local.


Technology -  No marketplace presently exists that maximizes the opportunities for farmers in the specialty crop (produce) space.   Using our tool, we will begin to understand what farmers can be growing to make the most economic benefit, that can keep an entire farm system healthy - and farmers on their land growing the right crops.  

In addition to the marketplace, our app will handle logistical coordination.  Logistics is a systematically complicated issue that brings expense and inefficiency to a local food system.  It puts smaller and medium size farms at a disadvantage to larger corporate growers.  Without rationalizing logistics, we will never have a local food system that works.  

Finally, in terms of food safety, quality and traceability - technology can enable new markets to be available for local produce growers.  Presently farms are not equipped to handle the requirements of major retailers and wholesalers in their area.  Our app will streamline federal requirements and certifications.  It will also allow retailers to trust our traceability system accross a complicated supply chain - making it even possible for local farms to meet these requirements in the event of a recall.  Our supply chain will differ from corporate farms in the sense that different farms will be in our chain.  If there is a contamination issue, without our technology, all farms maybe effect by a recall, thus potentially adversely affecting more farms than are needed and can contribute to food waste. 


Policy.  - In many ways the business conditions are the biggest hurdle our farmers have to working in the present marketplace.  With those removed, our biggest policy concerns involve things like crop protection.  Presently in our region, Dicamba drift has been causing serious damage, at random, to our farmers crops.  It has put a few farmers out of business.  This is a regulatory issue.  State departments of agriculture do not have the regulatory tools to properly govern this situation.   We can step in to advocate on behalf of our farmers in order to give them a greater voice. 



How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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