Can the Internet help small farms act big?
Wired Science has a good piece on the potential for tech startups to play a “disruptive” role in commercial food distribution. The post looks at several web services that are trying to replicate the restaurant supply chain system dominated by produce distribution giant Sysco and its ubiquitous trucks via a network of small farmers, iPhones and the Internet:
The food supply industry is ripe for ‘disintermediation’ because of the internet,” said Alistair Croll, a startup consultant working with FarmsReach. In other words, middlemen beware: Food could undergo a transition like the one that swept through classified ads, air travel and dozens of other industries.
…“The big problem in small agriculture is supply chain resiliency,” Croll said. “Chefs order from Sysco because they know, no matter what, they’ll get their orders or there is an account rep they can strangle.”
…FarmsReach wants to make ordering from local, small farms as easy and reliable as ordering from Sysco. Farmers with smartphones would snap quick photos of their produce, then upload their products into their “virtual stalls.” Restaurants could cruise through the vegetables online and pick what they wanted. It’s a classic farmer’s market with a high-tech twist.
There are all sorts of obstacles in the way of this kind of virtual supply chain — like the fact that small farmers are more likely to be out in the fields rather than updating databases or the persistent challenge that any farm cooperative has of tracking who’s growing what and how much or the reality that it may not be “convenient” enough to shop from a virtual farmers market. But it’s still heartening to see folks working on the IT challenges of a local food system and holding out the possibility that someone out there is developing the Craigslist — or better yet — the Facebook of local food.