9 Technology Tools for Localizing the Food System
October 28, 2014 | AJ Hughes
It might seem that to purchase locally-produced foods, one must take a two-lane county road to the nearest farm stand or visit the local farmers’ market. Even though it may seem that the big-box grocery store is an embedded part of modern life, modern technology increasingly is empowering the buying and selling of local foods on an larger-than-ever scale. From radio frequency identification tags to online food hubs to mobile phone apps, technology is taking agriculture “back” to the future.
The following are nine cutting-edge examples.
1. Radio Frequency Identification Tags
Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are used in a myriad of businesses, including those involved in food and agriculture. They can assist in monitoring the food temperature of food (which is perishable), and they can help keep track of supply (including livestock). And, RFID’s can be used to reduce food waste. For example, if an RFID tag alerts a wholesaler or retailer that food quality will decrease soon, a notice may be sent, letting people know to sell or ship that food before it spoils.
More and more people are becoming familiar with CSAs (community-supported agriculture), but how many CSA customers have thought about the logistics needed to run a successful CSA, with minimal waste? Buying and selling through a CSA operates on a much different model than chain supermarkets, and Brooklyn, New York-based Farmigo offers technology to help CSA farmers adapt. Farmigo enables growers in using technology to sell their products locally, bypassing supermarkets and reducing food waste. Its mission is to connect farmers and eaters, and to improve everyone’s access to local, sustainable and artisanal food.
3. Local Orbit
Local Orbit is putting the links back into what it sees as a broken food chain—by utilizing technology to reconnect farmers, growers, chefs, food distributors and foodservice operators who use the Ann Arbor, Michigan-headquartered Local Orbit for their web sites, marketing and distribution technology.
4. Relay Foods
For those who tire of weekly trips to the grocery store or are just weary of the same offerings under one roof, Relay Foods may be just what they were looking for. Providing services in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, Relay Foods works with not only local farmers and artisanal producers, but also with national brands to offer “one-stop” shopping for its customers. Buyers may pick up their food at numerous pickup locations, or may opt for home delivery. Launched in 2010, customers may personalize their online purchasing by filtering options such as local, vegan and organic.
5. Good Eggs
Based in San Francisco, California, Good Eggs is akin to a farmers’ market combined with an online grocery store. And it offers home delivery. Customers visit the Good Eggs web site and order food from over 100 local farmers and producers; the food is harvested and/or procured; and the order is delivered. The mission of Good Eggs is to grow local food systems, which it defines as networks of farms, commercial kitchens, grocers and other locally-owned food businesses. It sources all food and produce locally as much as possible, and everything Good Eggs sells is screened for high standards of quality. The company was founded in 2011, and currently serves market areas in and near San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Brooklyn.
CitySprout started from the realization that while locally-produced foods provide both economic and health benefits (not to mention taste), it’s not always easy for consumers to find such foods, and it’s not always easy for farmers to sell their food to local buyers. So technology came to the rescue, as local producers are now able to sell online through CitySprout. Buyers simply enter their address to become connected to local growers. Producers are able to set their own prices, and once a transaction is complete, grower and buyer meet at a delivery location. Ironically, CitySprout is using technology to rebuild long-lost relationships between growers and consumers on the local level.
Dana Smith, founder of FarmAppetit, grew up on a California almond farm and later worked for leading tech firms in Silicon Valley. With FarmAppetit, she merged her two loves of agriculture and technology. Her company provides mobile marketing services for all businesses and entities—farms, restaurants, vintners, craft beer brewers and more—that produce, source and/or promote locally-produced foods. Organizations that use FarmAppetit benefit from their customers being able to place orders from their phones, view menus and other specials and provide feedback, from their phones.
Another mobile platform is Peach, which connects farmers, restaurants, grocers and others in the buying and selling of locally-produced food. The Austin, Texas-based company provides a mobile app that allows producers to sell food to interested buyers. Peach strives to make the process of buying and selling local more efficient.
Local Food Marketplace is a “one-stop shop” that melds its expertise and experience with food hubs and technology to benefit organizations and companies that promote and sell locally-produced food. Its technical support team assists in the creation of unique web sites that reflect each company’s brand and personality. Local Food Marketplace offers periodic upgrades and unlimited technical support, as well as marketing advice.
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