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Tech startups give power back to the family farm

Even here in the local-food loving Bay Area, most food isn’t ‘farm to table.’ It’s farm to processor to distributor to wholesaler to retailer to the consumer, before hitting the dining table.

But shoppers increasingly want to know where their food comes from, and a growing number don’t like that long, convoluted route.

A group of food lovers and techies are teaming up to shorten the supply chain by putting the food market online.

Goodeggs is one of these companies, based out of the Dogpatch neighborhood in San Francisco.

Consumers go to the Goodeggs website and select which food they want to buy. There’s fresh fruit and veggies, eggs, dairy, bread, meat, snacks and even baby food. It’s grown organically wherever possible – and the growers and producers are local. Once the order’s placed, Goodeggs coordinates with the farmers and food makers, who deliver their products to the tech company’s warehouse. Goodeggs then either delivers it directly to the customers, which costs about $4. Or it can be picked up at vans around the city.

Goodeggs is one of a growing number of businesses putting the farmers market online.

At an event called Food Hackathon, held in a warehouse near the SOMA district of San Francisco, about 200 engineers, designers and foodies met to come up with new ideas to build technology products and tools specifically for the food industry.

One of the mentors at the hackathon is Naithan Jones, who is founder of a startup called AgLocal that connects independent farmers and ranchers directly with chefs. His wife’s family are farmers in Kansas.

“Hearing their stories of how they would see their friend’s names on menus, but they know that that person is really poor. But on the menu the steaks were like $80. This doesn’t make sense. … The more I dug into this, I realized that the internet is a really good solve for this problem,” Jones says.

There are already some existing models for helping farmers make more from their food – farmers’ markets for example, or Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions.

Lauren Bass runs an online market called LolaBee’s Harvest, which connects consumers with local cooks, farmers, and food makers. She wanted to set up an online tool that responded directly to problems she saw with the CSA model.

“You get too much food that goes to waste. you don’t get a lot of variety, and you have to go pick it up from a farmer in a parking lot somewhere between three and five on a Wednesday,” Bass says.

And she says many consumers won’t go to a farmers market every week either.

“So basically we’re giving farmers access to those people,” says Bass.

Dan Martin is one of LolaBee’s suppliers. He says selling through the startup gives him the freedom to concentrate on the farm.

“Because my operation is a seven day a week operation, and so I would have to be theoretically at a farmers market every day of the week trying to sell my eggs. Whereas they provide me with the release I need to focus on what I’m good at, which is raising chickens which lay delicious eggs,” Martin says. “I believe it’s going to require sincere startups like LolaBee’s to keep farmers like me sustainable.”

Click the audio player above to listen to the audio story.