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Getting There: The Hidden Key to Farm-to-Table Success

June 11, 2012
FarmersWeb is making it easier for food to get from farm to table. (Photo by: aldenjewell)

Ever sit in your favorite restaurant and stare at your exquisite plate of seasonal greens and wonder: “What was their journey?” If you imagine a stork dropping a bag of micro-greens into the chef’s arms, you may want to continue reading. Today, farm-to-table businesses are expanding as locavore dining becomes less of a luxury and increasingly the new normal. I sat down with Jennifer Goggin, President and co-founder of FarmersWeb, to get the scoop on how her company is bringing more farms’ bounty to restaurant tables.

Goggin became acquainted with the risky business of local farm delivery when she worked for a larger distributor, which led her to begin FarmersWeb with Aaron Grosbard, David Ross, and Sam Fox. “The idea was to simplify the process. One of the things we changed was the organizational part, which we learned was one of the reasons buyers weren’t sourcing locally. Originally they had to find twenty different farms, figure out their prices, call again to place orders and keep track of payments—for all twenty farms. We wanted to get rid of the excuse that buying local is too complicated—it really shouldn’t be—and connect the two,” Goggin said.

“It’s a self-sustaining marketplace,” Goggin added. Farms upload products and chefs like Dan Barber of Clean Plates-approved Blue Hill shop by filling an online cart with products from up to fifty farms, streamlining their foraging process with a few clicks. This system has even helped the Upper West Side’s Allen Stevenson Elementary School implement a local foods program. She continued, “Because FarmersWeb is so easy to use, they’ve been placing weekly orders to bring Hudson Valley fresh fruits and vegetables from Migliorelli Farm to their students.”

Chefs can literally shop throughout the tri-state area, from farms like upstate New York’s Raghoo Farm meats and NYFoods’ Organic Egg and Dairy Co-op. Farms are listed as either Organic or Naturally Grown (uncertified). Surprisingly, many chefs go gaga for the latter. “It seems like a lot of chefs have realized that the certification does not necessarily denote higher quality growing practices: It’s more about knowing the farm. I think the Certified Organic label is quickly becoming irrelevant because the process farms go through to get certified is incredibly time consuming and costly. A lot of these small farms use the same practices anyway,” she said. Hence the increasingly popular phrase: “organic practices.”

Most farmers can’t afford the Certified Organic sticker, nor can they afford to wait on payments. FarmersWeb guarantees quick pay, giving farms more incentive to supply restaurants. Goggin explains, “Farmers tell us, ‘We used to work with this restaurant, but they were too hard to manage. I’d like to work with them again; can you set this up for me?’”

While FarmersWeb handles the finances, farms are responsible for delivering the goods. Smaller farms without trucks are connected with third party transportation, if they can piggyback on another farm’s truck into the city. Once there, Goggin describes this service as, “…kind of a one-man-band with a refrigerated truck,” that picks up FarmersWeb orders at greenmarkets and delivers them to restaurants.

Wondering when FarmersWeb will deliver to your kitchen? Goggin says, “I don’t think we’re ready to jump into that yet. Not a lot of people cook in New York— we provide a great way for them to support the establishments that buy directly from the farms.” With FarmersWeb on the rise, those mythical storks can give up their micro-greens delivery and flap their way to an early retirement in Miami.

Image courtesy of aldenjewell.

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