Food4All, a tech startup based in Bend, is reshaping the way small farmers are selling to local consumers, and leading the way for communities around the U.S. to become more sustainable. After a full year of software development, Food4All has launched tools, technology and an online marketplace giving farmers, ranchers and food artisans everything they need to sell direct to their community. Shoppers can use the geolocation feature to discover who and where the food growers are in proximity to their location, make a purchase online and arrange for delivery.
It’s the only technology platform in the country that gives small food producers the tools they need to sell both online and in person, while giving local buyers who have a passion for locally produced food, the ability to find and buy direct from the producer. The team at Food4All is confident that this new technology will be the catalyst that expands local food communities. A few dozen food producers in Oregon are already seeing success, and Food4All is preparing for a busy summer season.
Sarah Lee Lawrence, owner of Rainshadow Organics, was the first farmer recruited to use Food4All in her own business. Lawrence’s family has farmed for over 25 years outside of Terrebonne, Oregon and offers seasonal Community Supported Agriculture boxes (CSAs) and grass-fed meat shares. “Food4All has really helped grow my farm business”, says Lawrence. “Their technology makes it easy to sell either online and in person. They have a great vision for local food access and the system will be integral in helping connect small farmers, consumers and businesses around the nation.”
To solve the farmer’s need for both simple-to-use technology and online presence, Food4All has created a platform that allows a food producer to easily sell from their own website, through an integrated mobile point of sale, the seller’s social media and through Food4All’s online marketplace.
The Food4All platform is free to food producers, where they simply take pictures of their products, upload them from their phones, and start selling to their customers immediately. Buyers pay a small transaction fee when they place an order. And the Food4All team is available to support sellers as they adopt the system.
The team at Food4All is led by Kami Semick, Tyson Pardue, and Kristin Yurdin all of Bend. Their passion for disrupting the food distribution model has resulted in a high tech solution to an age old problem – accessing healthy, nutritious food to nourish the family. And their timing is excellent to take advantage of the explosive demand for organic and locally grown food.
Semick believes that with Food4All, consumers will bypass traditional grocers and develop a relationship with the very people who grow and raise their food. “We provide the ability to know your farmer and know the story behind your food.”
She is confident her company’s high tech solution will help folks return to a time where communities were more self-sustaining, by supporting local food producers and increasing jobs for small farmers and ranchers.
Katrina Van Dis with the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance in Oregon understands the potential to open up a whole new marketplace for farmers with a new technology that connects them to their own communities, strengthening their market position and making them more competitive. “We are excited to partner with Food4All as they work to build a platform that can be replicated throughout the U.S. with advanced technologies to connect with consumers.”
There’s growing interest across the nation by consumers in fostering a more independent food supply chain, accessing healthier options compared to the supermarket conglomerates and mega food producers. The locavore movement is strong on the west and east coasts, and gaining ground in the middle and southern states. Yet, with all the interest in purchasing local foods, there is no online marketplace connecting buyers with all the food producers in their own region, and allowing a transaction to take place in real time. That’s where Food4All comes in.
“Local farmers need improved access to markets, and better tools to compete in a challenging business”, says food industry expert and consultant Klaus Mager. “Food4All is an important service to assist the small to medium sized farmer and food processor to scale and optimize his/her business. It’s using the most advanced technology specifically focused on the development of local food systems, a market that is lagging behind the demand for its products.”
The passion of Semick, Pardue and Yurdin is rooted in the idea of communities being able to support themselves, with families buying produce, meat, and eggs from nearby farmers.
According to Pardue who has guided Food4All’s technology vision, “Revolutionary technology shifts like those happening right now, which power the new “sharing” economy, only happen a few times in a lifetime. We are leveraging these new capabilities with modern UX design, device independence, geolocation, unlimited scalability, and we’re putting all of that power in the hands of farmers, ranchers, and food makers. And it’s in a simple and approachable package. It will now be as easy for sellers to manage their business as it is to post content to Facebook. Locavores will be able to find and buy from their local producers as simply as booking a room on Airbnb, or hailing a nearby driver on Uber.”
Food producers can sign up and get support at www.food4all.com.
THE INSPIRATION FOR FOOD COMMUNITIES
Kami Semick and Tyson Pardue moved to Central Oregon over a decade ago, as high tech entrepreneurs and purchased a couple of acres with plans to lay down roots. The idea for Food4All started when they tried to grow a prolific garden in the high desert. Semick is an accomplished athlete and endurance runner, and understands the value of nutrient-dense foods. Pardue is an advocate for organically grown produce and grass-fed meats. The couple quickly discovered the challenges of growing food year round in the dry, mountain climate to meet the needs of their family.
The husband and wife team started a quest to find enough locally grown, fresh produce and grass-fed meats to supplement what they couldn’t grow themselves. They visited farmer’s markets in the summer and joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network. But they were surprised by how difficult it was to find the various farms in their home region and the inability to easily connect and make a purchase.
About five years ago, they took a break from Oregon to travel to Hong Kong for business and athletics. Semick and Pardue’s passion for supporting local farmers was reinforced by what they saw in eastern Tibet and western China. “We found small villages that were completely self-sufficient” says Semick, “growing their own food and raising their own families from the fruits of the land around them. These people were healthy and vibrant, even well into their later years.” At that point, the high tech duo became committed to help communities around the U.S. realize the benefits of food access and sustainability.
Pardue reflects on the inspiration that led him to create a technology solution for consumers to access local food, while also solving a real problem for growers and ranchers. “After coming back from Hong Kong, we began to talk about how we can use our background in technology and business to connect the small food producer to people who have a passion for local food. We knew the solution must be easy to use, intuitive for the farmer and integrate with today’s consumer behavior – so we developed a web enabled platform that can be used on a computer, but it’s designed primarily for mobile devices. The result is an online marketplace for local food lovers (locavores), and it’s available to every community in the nation.
Yurdin, joined the Food4All team as an experienced chef who understands the challenges in the current local food distribution model. She’s an acquaintance of Semick and Pardue from the climbing scene around Smith Rock. Yurdin started and operated The Terrebonne Depot restaurant for a decade, during which time she had a reputation for using quality, locally sourced foods. Despite her commitment to local farmers, Yurdin found it difficult to source and receive enough locally produced food to fulfill the daily needs of the restaurant.
When Yurdin found out about the mission of Food4All, she jumped on board. “We know that both producers of food and commercial buyers wear many hats and need convenient ways to connect. That’s our role at Food4All. We make it easy for food producers to list and display all their products. And it’s easy for food buyers, individuals and restaurants, to discover and support local sellers.”