To Help Eaters Navigate Local Food Web, Online Resource Facilitates Connection to Sustainable Food
March 20, 2012 | Kelly Hatton
While slogans like “eat local” and “know your farmer” have flooded our bumpers and the consumer consciousness, eaters searching for local, sustainably produced foods know that these ideals are not always so easily achieved. Kim Werner’s struggle to navigate her local food web inspired her to start FarmPlate, an online resource that helps eaters all over the country more easily find regionally grown and sustainably produced food.
“When our first daughter was born, I wanted more than ever to have easy access to wholesome food fresh from the source,” said Werner. “I spent hours googling nearby farmers’ markets, farms where we could purchase a side of beef, and winter CSAs. What I found were just pieces of the larger puzzle I was trying to put together.”
Like others, Werner realized that a sustainable diet requires more than a once-a-week trip to the grocery store. The venues for finding local food are numerous and growing: from CSA vegetable shares, to dairy products sold from the farm, to farmers markets. So Werner, a former cookbook editor, decided to build a business that would allow individuals to navigate their local food web by searching their region for restaurants, farms, markets and organizations committed to sustainability.
“I decided to find a way to bring together all of this information into a single resource and leverage technology to build a powerful and efficient platform to connect and grow the sustainable foods community,” said Werner.
FarmPlate launched in January 2012 and currently lists over 40,000 businesses in an easy to search and find layout. Farmers, artisans, restaurants, markets and foods are listed as separate searchable categories on the website’s homepage, and users can customize their search within each section. The results are an all-inclusive database that allows users to quickly find the resource they’re looking for, from a community garden in Chicago, to a CSA in New Hampshire, to a restaurant that serves local fair in Vermont.
Werner’s philosophy for the site’s listings emphasizes transparency rather than exclusion. The site lists businesses according to different criteria with regards to sustainability, ranging from “sources locally” to “sells direct to the consumer” to “farms in a sustainable manner.”
“We err on the side of inclusion,” said Werner, “as we want to help businesses expand their commitment to sustainable products, and not exclude them because they are not doing enough along these lines to warrant a listing. We’re here to help.”
For businesses, a FarmPlate listing is a great advertisement. Unlisted businesses may request to be added to the database by filling out a quick form under “suggest a listing” on the website’s homepage. All listings are verified by FarmPlate’s staff. The site is currently the “largest national searchable directory of sustainable food businesses,” and this scope, according to Werner, is part of what sets FarmPlate apart from similar sites.
“We stand out because our directory maps the entire natural/real food ecosystem—not just farmers, but also cheesemakers, fishermen, vintners, food trucks, CSAs, restaurants, markets and more—and our technology infrastructure ensures an easy-to-use, cost-effective web marketing platform for food enterprises of all kinds to market and grow their businesses to a highly targeted audience,” she said.
Businesses can opt to upgrade their listing for an introductory fee of $195 per year. The upgrade allows businesses to personalize their profiles by adding a direct link to their webpage and the ability to update and share their available products, menus, and photos with FarmPlate users.
“We are a resource for those who are firmly committed to sustainable foods as well as people and businesses who are interested in becoming more engaged in this way of life,” explained Werner. She envisions the site becoming an online community of food businesses and consumers. Currently, individuals can join FarmPlate at no cost. Members receive updates from the community and have the ability to write reviews, share favorite businesses with friends and can show their support by “digging” their favorite listings.
“We will also be integrating more communication and social connection tools as well as deepen the connection between our editorial content and the business listings as the website evolves,” Werner said. The site will also continue to update listings. Werner welcomes user feedback, and looks forward to this input steering future growth for the online community.
“The easier you make it for people to accomplish something, the more likely they are to engage,” she said. “I believe FarmPlate can really make a difference by making it easy for people to find sources of wholesome, sustainable foods.”