By Jeff Gangemi – Director of Partnerships and Communications at FarmPlate.com
In farming, it seems that size is often rewarded. Government subsidies, economies of scale, and the use of chemical pesticides all conspire to make life easier for large-scale industrial farming operations.
But there are a number of advantages to being small. Chief among them may be the ability to connect with individual customers and achieve a level of transparency impossible (or at least undesirable) for larger, factory type farming operations.
“I think a lot of people are finding out – not just farmers, but also fish providers and other producers – that transparency in and of itself is a great marketing tool,” says Barry Estabrook, James Beard award-winning food journalist and author of Tomatoland. “That means encouraging your customers to visit your farm, to talk about how you produce food if you serve a market or CSA.” For its part, the government is at least aware of a growing desire among consumers to learn about where their food comes from. In 2009, the USDA launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) to help strengthen local and regional food systems by helping consumers “connect with their food and the people who grow and raise it.”
A growing number of organizations also hold real-world events designed to make connections between consumers and farmers. For example, the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s New York (NOFA-NY) chapter is hosting six Community Supported Agriculture Fairs across the state, where CSA farms, bakeries or groups set up a booth and meet and talk with consumers, who can choose which businesses they want to buy from and sign up for a CSA share.
But what about where face-to-face interactions are impossible, or cost-prohibitive? That’s where a new crop of technology companies offering time- and cost-effective platforms for small producers to showcase their operations, processes and products comes in.
“I believe transparency is perhaps the major economic advantage small producers have over large corporations. Their food chain is short, and easily made transparent and available to consumers via the web and apps,” says Beth Hoffman, managing editor of Food + Tech Connect, an influential blog that has been exploring how greater transparency in food industry data would not only improve food safety, but also enable discovery of healthier restaurants and recipes.
“Instead of having to purchase expensive tracking systems and creating data tools to manage the huge amount of information generated by complicated food supply chains,small producers (especially ones that sell directly and locally) can make their information
available by telling the story of their food in places like Real Time Farms, FarmPlate, Local Dirt or on their private websites,” says Hoffman.