Crowdfunding Tomatoes: Technology Platform Allows Consumers to Fund Produce
April 26, 2016 | Abbie Stutzer
ProduceRun co-founder and president William Pattison is no stranger to farming. His family has worked the land for four generations.
“ProduceRun started on our own family farm,” Pattison says. “We wanted a better way to be found, sell and distribute our farm products to the public. I feel that our technology can make a real difference for farmers, making it easier for them to do business, and creating easier access for buyers.”
ProduceRun is a web-based service that allows farmers to “pre-sell” goods to local consumers via a crowdfunding-like platform. Farmers entice potential consumers by uploading photos and videos of their goods. The sale can be finalized at the growers’ local farmers’ market stand, local food hubs, or elsewhere. Anyone can launch their own campaign, as long as it meets the company’s guidelines.
It’s the latest in a variety of models looking to use the internet to cut out the middleman and facilitate more direct-to-consumer or direct-to-institution sales. Other examples include LocalOrbit and FoodHub.
What makes ProduceRun so unique is its emphasis on selling via a crowdfunding mechanism. A campaign must reach a specified minimum number of orders that make the overall sale profitable for them before the transaction happens. Think Kickstarter for tomatoes.
ProduceRun’s main office is in the Newbo District of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, across the road from the Newbo City Market Local Food Hub.
“The community has been a fantastic support,” Pattison says. So far, the public has introduced ProduceRun’s team to new farmers, purchased items through the company’s platform, and has helped spread the word about what the company does.
Before jumping into the produce business, Pattison started with a simple Facebook page to measure interest. Then ProduceRun’s organizers began posting about farm goods and the public responded with various requests. After assessing interest, the company entered the Iowa Startup Accelerator in Cedar Rapids to take the concept to market.
Although the organization is still in its infancy, the company has over 59,600 website users across America. All are mostly farmers, buyers, and farmers’ markets.
So far, the company is pursuing small-scale farmers who maintain an online presence by texting and emailing.
Pattison hopes that ProduceRun can also put the spotlight on local and regional food growers and producers.
“The average American meal travels 1,500 miles to get to plate,” he says. “To me that seems crazy. We have so much high-quality food grown around the corner from us.”
ProduceRun works by having vendors create a funding goal and a deadline. Consumers can pledge money to make the ProduceRun happen.The technology allows the farmer to set a minimum number of pre-sales before she heads out to make deliveries. The program also allows farmers to pick a minimum amount of goods sold per person. Each ProduceRun campaign is is all or nothing; the campaign must reach a “tipping point” for people to receive their product.
So far, 348 successful campaigns have been completed via ProduceRun, 100 pre-sell campaigns have been funded, and 59,936 farmers, restaurants, farmers’ markets, food co-ops, food artisans, and buyers have used ProduceRun.
Backing a ProduceRun is more than just giving someone money, according to Pattison. Essentially, the buyer is developing relationships with the farmer who grows the food while contributing to local farm viability.
Since launching, the company has helped local farmers sell directly to customers and restaurants during the week.
In the future, Pattison hopes to make it even easier for farmers to go to market “so they can focus on what they love doing, which is growing,” he says.