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Deena Shanker 's Posts

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Online marketplace set to launch local food vendors into the mainstream

Fulfilling orders at Bread SRSLY.

When Sadie Scheffer decided to start her own vegan, gluten-free baking company, the logistics were not her top priority. Like many small food companies without retail spaces, she started Bread SRSLY by delivering her breads and muffins on a bike, using a makeshift online ordering system through email and Etsy, and taking cash on delivery. Scheffer’s system worked when she was fielding a few orders at a time, but when it came time to scale up, it was less than ideal.

Enter Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based startup that provides online tools for small and sustainable food producers. Now Scheffer’s orders come through the Good Eggs online platform, and on top of taking orders from house to house, she now also drops off a lot of product at once at community pickup spots arranged by the company. She sells three times as many loaves of bread as she did before Good Eggs. Scheffer admits that she’s had trouble keeping up with orders, but adds: “That's the fun part, the scary part, and the only way I’m going to grow.”

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Saving surplus: Gleaned foods make it to the grocery shelf

Green garlic pickles, an early experiment for the Gleaning Project.

For farmers all over the country, growing more than they can sell is just a part of doing business. As is routinely tilling surplus produce back into the soil. And because space is limited and time is of the essence, most farmers don't have many other options --- even if it usually means thousands of pounds of uneaten food.

“Nothing is lost when you turn something under; it just goes back into the dirt,” says Andy Griffin, owner of Watsonville, Calif.-based Mariquita Farm. “For us, loss comes when we’ve spent money to pick something, wash it, pack it, refrigerate it, and put it in a box, then [have to] take it out of the box and throw it away.” Of course, one could argue that the water and fertilizer required to grow the food -- as well as the labor -- is indeed lost, even if these are standard costs to farmers.

As much as Griffin says he’d like to see every vegetable he grows find a home, he has to be realistic. “Sometimes you need a bunch of stuff out of the way. Rather than wait and lose the opportunity to put the next crop in, I turn whatever's out there under. There’s a choreography to moving stuff through the fields.”

Yet in this tightly timed dance, local food entrepreneur Larry Bain saw a chance to cut in. Owner of a Bay Area-based grass-fed beef hot dog company called Let’s Be Frank, Bain saw an enormous surplus of organic produce and an eager market looking to buy it, but a scarcity of good distribution options. What would happen, he wondered, if someone were to create minimally processed, shelf-stable products out of this extra produce?

This summer, Bain has teamed up with San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market and several other Bay Area businesses to find out. He'll buy the surplus produce at a reduced price from California farmers like Griffin, in an effort to “capture the food at its very best moment,” preserve it, and sell it under their new label, The Gleaning Project.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food