Fixing a Broken Food Distribution System

wired-foodSeems like every few days I'm approached by someone with a local food focused business idea. Distribution is broken! We need a year round farmers market! CSAs are not the answer! Here's what I say: Yes. I've seen King Corn, FRESH, The Future of Food, and others. I've read Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Nina Planck, Barbara Kingsolver, Mark Bittman, and the crew. I know we've got a problem. I know CSAs are not the answer. And I know that legislation takes forever - and is driven by the needs of corporate lobbyists, rather than the people in need. So it was with a great deal of interest that I read Wired magazine's recent, excellent article "Food Web, Meet Interweb." (Thanks for the link, Jen!) The article takes a look at several companies, including and FarmsReach, that are finding new ways to connect food producers with consumers. Here's an excerpt:

The current distribution of edibles works the way it does ... because it’s brutally effective at reliably delivering low-cost food all over the country. Sysco, the dominant $13 billion American food distributor, works and restaurants know that. “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.

Now, restaurants have two basic options. Call up a dozen local farms to order the ingredients for their salads or use Sysco’s online system and have everything show up, come hell or high water. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only the pickiest chefs at the fancier restaurants choose the local farm route.

The idea of creating a distribution channel for local, sustainable foods is a great one, and - on the surface - it doesn't seem all that complicated. It's practically why the web exists! But changing behavior is never simple, and several companies are looking for ways to make it easy for farmers to update their online inventories. And while the idea of farmers spending less time in their fields and more time on their MacBooks seems odd, I'd point out that these very same farmers have long been masters of technology and innovation, having created better seeds, improved farming techniques, and superior waste management processes, among other things. In that context, keeping an online inventory doesn't seem like that big a deal.