How one company is bringing the farmers market to you

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

Here in Portland, Oregon, farmers markets are as common as bearded guys on bikes. I know I’m lucky, and I try to go to the one nearby my house every Sunday. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. So I end up buying produce at my local supermarket. And almost always, the tomatoes and peppers I buy are pricier, and just not as fresh.

Screenshot of an online farmers market.

But what if I could get what I needed delivered to the Idealist office every week?

That’s the idea behind Farmigo, a startup that’s disrupting the traditional industrial food complex as we know it.

It works like this: you, or someone else, starts a food community at a workplace, school, community center, or anywhere you visit daily. As a member of that community, you go online to the Farmigo website and choose what seasonal items from local farmers you’d like to buy: meat, fish, vegetables, baked goods, coffee, and more. The farmers then deliver the goods on a designated pick-up day. No chemicals, no handling, no middleman – and your dinner is as fresh as a chicken’s egg.

“For the person who understands the value of eating healthy but is not able to access enough healthy food, Farmigo just made it easier,” says founder Benzi Ronen. “For the folks who have wanted to get involved and become part of the solution, Farmigo provides concrete steps to take action.”

For the farmers, logistics aren’t as worrisome anymore. “Traditionally farmers are good at growing food, and sometimes we need help with marketing, sales, information management, and more,” says Nick Papadopoulos from California’s Bloomfield Farms Organics. “Farmigo is helping alleviate a whole host of pain points for us.”

Since becoming a part of Farmigo six months ago, Bloomfield Farms Organics has been able to connect with a whole new audience both online and offline  — more people have been attending their U-Pick Sundays, for example — as well as fostered collaborations with other farmers. When Nick meets with other farmers in the state, he asks questions, shares best practices, and bonds over the shared Farmigo identity.

This all sounds good and all but you might be thinking, What about the other food systems out there?

“Farmigo complements the farmers markets and CSAs by appealing to a segment of the population that were looking for fresh-from-harvest food in a more convenient fashion. Farmigo stands on the shoulders of giants; farmers markets and CSAs,”  says Benzi.

Obstacles

A couple years ago, Benzi, a decade-long Internet entrepreneur and executive, was about to start a family. “I started thinking, What kind of food did we want to have in the house to feed our baby?” he says.

Between awareness about eating healthier on the rise, the Internet reaching a tipping point where almost everyone is connected, including farmers, and social networks empowering people to influence one another, it seemed the perfect time to launch such a company.

Still, Benzi had challenges getting Farmigo up and running:

Obstacle: Lack of knowledge about farming
Solution: While Benzi’s previous experience included building software for CSAs, he admittedly didn’t know the first thing about harvesting crops. So he went around the country to 100’s of farms and spent countless hours talking with farmers about their challenges and issues. He then created technical solutions based on those conversations.

“I’m not a fan of working in an ivory tower. I believe in quick iterations. I interviewed 20 farmers, created mock-ups, interviewed 20 more, created more mock-ups, interviewed the next 20, got more feedback. Now we are taking the same approach to figure out the best possible experience for the consumer,” he says.

Fresh seasonal produce from Monkshood Nursery in NY, a local Farmigo farm.

Obstacle: Setting up food communities
Solution: Not a fan of cold calling, Benzi’s strategy is to instead find and coach hyperlocal food evangelists who are willing to kickstart a community where they are.

He’s met with success, as companies have started to use Farmigo as a way to show staff appreciation. Brooklyn-based social media agency Carrot Creative, for example, sponsors $10 toward each Farmigo purchase as a wellness benefit. Microfinance organization Kiva orders office snacks from Farmigo, and gives credit on the site as a work incentive.

Obstacle: Cultural attitudes about online ordering
Solution: Nowadays most of us order almost everything online from books to plane tickets to flowers. But produce is still lagging, despite services like FreshDirect and Peapod.

“The way we’re tackling this is not trying to get whole world to shift and buy online. We’re focusing on gaining widespread adoption within many small communities,” says Benzi.

To get people in the habit of buying kale with the click of a button, the Farmigo team helps communities host cooking classes, recipe contests, nutritional speakers, and more, continually directing them to the online component. With farmers, it’s proving to be the reverse.

“We’re seeing that farming is now becoming the new cool profession. College graduates are excited to plow the earth but they also want to be entrepreneurs and have control of their business” he says. “These young farmers are Internet savvy and know how to use online media, social networks, and mobile applications to connect directly with their consumers. They’re pushing us to build better technological solutions for their needs.”

Obstacle: Making time for family
Solution: Benzi has one daughter, with another child on the way. “A lot of people think starting a family and raising kids are obstacles. It’s not an excuse. If you’re passionate about something, then go out and do it,” he says. It helps that he has an understanding wife who is as entrepreneurial as he is, and he’s careful not to schedule meetings during his daughter’s bathtimes or mealtimes.

Advice

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Farmigo food community delivery in action.

While only in NY and CA for now, the Farmigo family is ever-growing. Soon, they’ll be expanding to other U.S. cities and releasing a knowledge hub for farmers.

A seasoned entrepreneur, here’s how Benzi thinks you can move forward on your idea:

  1. Since entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic, have a naysayer on board. “Make sure you have a co-founder or life partner who is critical of your ideas and pushes you to tests assumptions,” says Benzi.
  2. If you have a critical component to your success, it’s important to have multiple alternatives. If you have a partner who is absolutely crucial, have a back-up. Have two customers? Have a third ready. “It makes you much stronger. Because things will always go wrong,” he says.
  3. Enjoy the process. With Benzi’s other ventures, it was all about the end goal of creating a company. “In my last start-up there were long periods of time that weren’t fun. It sounds cliché, but this time around it’s about the journey itself,” he says.

“Farmigo’s mission is about making healthy food accessible to all households – this is something that has a benefit for society,” he finally says. “We hire our team members based on passion for our mission. This is a long and hard journey and we need people who are inspired to pour their hearts into this every day.”

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Ready to kickstart a Farmigo community of your own at your workplace, school, or community center? Get started here

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Idea File: Would you live in a tiny house to help the environment?

The idea

The average home size in America is roughly 2,000 square feet. The average tiny house is less than one quarter of that size.

Tiny houses are literally what you might imagine: miniature dwellings complete with everything you need to live. (Think the adult version of a doll-house.) While most common in the U.S., tiny houses are gaining in popularity around the world, and can be found in countries from England to Japan.

The size may be less, but the options are many. You can buy a pre-fab home, or build your own. You can use straw, or wood. You can opt for a modern style, or a rustic one. Regardless of how you go about it, everyone who lives in a tiny house will agree: Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Ecologically sustainable. Tiny houses not only use less materials, but often try to be as ecologically sound as possible, from energy to water to light.
  • Increases self-awareness. The design is completely in your control. Every single decision has to be considered, which makes you examine how your choices align with your personal philosophy and needs.
  • Frees up time. Forget spending your weekends organizing the basement or mopping your kitchen. Smaller square footage means not only less clutter, but less time spent on the drudgery of cleaning, and more time to dedicate to family and friends, your hobbies and passions.
  • Intellectual challenge. Most tiny house advocates find there is a certain draw and excitement about making a small space perfectly functionally efficient.
  • Freedom of mobility. Tiny houses are often on wheels, and no matter where you are in the world, you always have a place to come home to.

How you can replicate it

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Portland, OR is one of the leading cities in the tiny house movement. (Photo from nicolas. boullosa via Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

Herbalist Karin Parramore in Portland, Oregon has recently started to build her own tiny house. As someone who’s always loved small things – her first doll named Tiny was two and half inches long – and traveled all over the globe, the idea of a miniature dwelling was immediately appealing.

Her future home will be built on wheels and include recycled materials. It will have solar power, an alcohol stove, electrical heater, and clear cabinets so she can see what she does and doesn’t use. For Karin, it aligns with her core values about ecological sustainability and fits with her nomadic lifestyle.

It’s been a three-year-process, from which she’s learned a lot from. Here’s what she has to say about building your own tiny house:

Philosophy

  1. Consider your relationship with personal space. From living all over the world, Karin has seen that there are radically varying ideas about what personal space means. Before you begin, examine your relationship with personal space, and know your limits. If you don’t like little spaces, then little spaces aren’t for you.
  2. Be willing to confront your philosophies. “It’s easy to say you believe in this or that,” Karin says. “But when you’re making the decision to live that philosophy, it really takes facing it head on and asking, Is it true? Do I really believe this? Is this how I want to live my life?”
  3. Set a minimum. Stop and reflect a moment. If there are amenities you absolutely have to have, or a certain amount of square footage to make you feel comfortable, it helps to know that from the beginning.
  4. Be open to the possibility of tossing physical memories. Some people give their memory boxes to family to keep. Others, like Karin, pick and choose which photos, objects, etc. to discard.

Building

  1. There’s always an answer to a problem. Because so many people have done this before you, there are a ton of ideas for you to steal. Don’t know what to do with your waste from the toilet? Try worm composting. Concerned about how to do laundry? Look into the Wonderwash. Perplexed about bathing? Consider a Japanese soaking tub, where you can store stuff when not in use.
  2. Know your zoning laws. Laws vary from state to state, county to county. Oregon, for example, prohibits dwellings less than 200 square feet. But because this is still a bit of a gray area, it’s a good opportunity for you to help influence the legal process from the start.
  3. Talk to your neighbors. To help lessen the chances that a neighbor will cause problems, go around and knock on doors to make sure there aren’t any issues.
  4. Don’t let cost deter you. Depending on what you want to do and your time constraints, expenses can range from next to nothing (if you use salvaged materials) to thousands of dollars.
  5. If you build it they will come. Karing found that once she started telling people about her idea, offers to help came out of the woodwork from friends, family, and the ever-growing tiny house community. Don’t be daunted by zero building experience; there are lots of resources already available from video blogs to networking events to books.

“This is my solution to despair about the state of the world,” Karin finally says.”It’s selfish. I want to feel better. I don’t want to feel like I’m hopelessly watching the world devolve. This is my way of remaining hopeful.”
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Interested in building a tiny house of your own? Feel free to reach out to Karin for advice: herbalearn@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

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Cyber Monday is Green Gift Monday, too!

featuredFolks are all a-Twitter today over Cyber Monday, the start of the online holiday shopping season. Did you know that last year on Cyber Monday, consumers spent nearly $890 million online? And that The Nature Conservancy has also dubbed today Green Gift Monday, to encourage all of us to green our holiday shopping?

Why not direct part (or all) of your shopping funds this year toward responsibly manufactured goods or donations to your sister’s/neighbor’s/partner’s favorite cause? For ideas for some causes to support, take a look at The Nature Conservancy’s gift guide. (Diana’s hoping for someone to adopt a Coral Reef in Palau on her behalf – hint, hint!)

Additional resources that might help guide your Cyber/Green Gift Monday and the rest of your holidays:

  • Climate Counts scores all kinds of companies (from airlines and hotel chains to toy and electronics manufacturers) on their sustainability efforts.
  • Low Impact Living rates green holiday gifts.

Do you know of others? Share them in the comments below!

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