The philosophy of community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs is great: You get to put a face to your farmer, ensure growing methods are sustainable, oppose giant agribusinesses, and get the freshest produce possible. In many ways, it’s a win-win — until you’re stuck with several pounds of kale you just can’t eat. Farmigo, a Brooklyn-based food tech start-up, is working to fix that by making it easier to score the farm-fresh products you want, without the excess waste.
What started as a company supplying software to farmers to help manage CSA programs has morphed into an online farm-to-table grocery store. The company works with local producers to bring high-quality foods to consumers, and it gives users the ability to pick and choose their sources. “The Farmigo model is an evolution of the CSA for people who don’t necessarily want to be locked into four weeks of rutabaga,” says Farmigo head of communications Jay Lee.
The company offers a wide array of products — so much that it can replace a conventional grocery store. You’ll find the usual assortment of seasonal produce like apples, heirloom tomatoes, and squash, most of which is sourced in-state, although some items, like citrus, come from as far as Florida. Dairy is also offered, as are seafood, meat, free-range eggs, and dozens of options for fresh breads, sweets, and pantry staples, such as coffee, tea, nut butters, jams, and granola.
Customers log in to the website and pick out whatever they’d like to order for the week. Once a week, the transactions are processed. The farmers then harvest only the items that have been requested. The next day, the order is delivered to Farmigo; the following day, it’s sent to the community organizers where customers pick it up. Within two days, fresh produce is on the table. Every item on the site is traceable to the producer.
Contrast that to regular channels of distribution. Green tomatoes get plucked off the vines in Florida, packed into boxes, and shipped to large distribution centers. Boxes are then trucked to individual stores and then, finally, unpacked onto shelves to await purchase. The whole process takes more than a week and, in many cases, large amounts of excess waste is left over from produce that doesn’t sell. “Some studies say approximately 40 percent is wasted,” says Lee. “And the food you get is ten days old. For us, it’s the exact opposite: 48 hours, with no storage or waste.”
You get exactly what you want and nothing more here, but the company model is very similar to that of a CSA. It works with a network of organizers who are responsible for managing the orders and customer pickups. The idea is to foster a sense of community among Farmigo users. With two-hour pickup windows, the company wants consumers to get to known each other.
To CEO Benzi Ronen, that’s an integral component of the business. After living in Israel for fifteen years, volunteering in a kibbutz for some of that time, he believes that feeling connected to society is important and something people are seeking. “We’re kind of tired of cocooning,” says Ronen. “Everything is on the internet; we’re seeing a real shift to quality interactions.”
According to Ronen, the organizers set the tone of the program. He started a pickup site in his own building. With two kids of his own, he invited buyers to bring their kids along; it has since turned into an informal playgroup. In Williamsburg, hipsters interact with hipsters. Stay-at-home moms host other families on Long Island. Church groups work with their congregation. The company even has a Broadway dancer who sells to a network of other professional dancers. “It’s not just about one-click transactions where you know your UPS guy better than your neighbor,” says Ronen. “You develop loyalty to the organizer; they become the spiritual head of the neighborhood for fresh food.”
To find out more about locating an organizer or becoming one yourself, visit farmigo.com.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.