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Energy & Sustainability

Helping Small Farmers Capitalize on Food Technology Trends

Mark Meytin

CEO, 1000EcoFarms

Kelsey Vlamis

Digital Strategy Manager, 1000EcoFarms

General consensus is that small-scale family farms are dying. In reality, opportunities for small-scale farms to thrive are abundant — farmers just need the right tools.

Food consumption trends are changing. The number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled in the past 10 years. GMO labeling laws are passing at state and national levels in the name of transparency. Another farm-to-table restaurant opens every day.

Something else is hard to miss: the influence of modern technology. Businesses use social media to connect with consumers in previously impossible ways, and consumers can research everything there is to know about a product or company before making a purchase.

At the same time, farmers are dealing with a shifting food landscape, where large-scale industrial agriculture controls more of the market than ever, and modern processing and technology has made it easy to transport food across massive geographic divides, creating previously nonexistent competition for small-scale, local farmers. These challenges are universal, shared by farmers across the globe.

Together, shifting food consumption trends and modern technology trends create massive opportunities to address these issues — opportunities that could also lead to more fiscal success for farmers, more jobs and improved local economies.

Local Farmers Can Revive Local Economies

Agriculture has served as a cornerstone of American life both socially and economically. However, the rise of large-scale agriculture has hurt local economies. Towards the end of the 20th century and as the number of large industrial farms grew, the percentage of the rural workforce employed on farms decreased roughly 50 percent and continues to decline today.

Researchers have found that large-scale agricultural operations spend only about 20 percent of their farm expenditures locally, which means that 80 percent of farm spending is outside of the community instead of going back into the local economy.

Since large industrial farms produce massive quantities to be sold nationally, farmers receive on average only 16 cents of every American food dollar, down from 31 cents in 1980. One study found that by capitalizing on local sales channels successfully — and cutting out the middleman — farmers could make more money for their products.

The numbers make one thing clear: if we can succeed in promoting local food economies, the rewards will be bountiful: increased profits for small farmers, recovery of lost agricultural jobs and revived local economies.

Use Tech to Boost Small Farms

That’s where industry disruptive innovators come in.

By enabling small-scale farmers and producers, 1000EcoFarms and other disruptive startups have the power to use the shifting changes in consumption and technology trends to encourage more small-scale businesses in communities across the nation, ultimately leading to increased jobs and economic opportunities for people that live there.

At 1000EcoFarms, we use an online interface and simple geo-based search tools to connect producers and consumers of local food, granting small farmers access to previously hard-to-access sales channels. By using the site, farmers get control over pricing and direct access to consumers. They can observe local trends and prices in the agriculture marketplace — all useful tools that often pose challenges for small farmers in such a highly regulated and diverse industry.

Other startups, such as Granular, use complex software to compile farm data and analyze changes in varying factors to aid in farm management. The startup provides resources and decision-making tools to small farmers that many other industries — and industrial agriculture operations — have already been utilizing.

FarmLogs is another startup at the nexus of technology and agriculture that aims to help simplify many aspects of running a farm: from budgeting for the season, to scheduling work, to simplifying maintenance of tractors and other machinery. Its product utilizes a variety of big data sets, such as those from National Weather Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service to provide small farmers with tools that have previously only been available large-scale industrial farming operators.

To ensure that the demand for local, farm-to-table food is more than just a trend, we need startups to provide the right tools to small farmers and producers. Demand for local food is not enough; there must be a means of scaling to meet that demand as well.

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Mark Meytin

CEO, 1000EcoFarms

Mark Meytin is a cofounder and CEO of 1000EcoFarms — an online community and marketplace for natural, farm-produced food. Mark has an MBA from UMD's Smith School of Business, and…

Kelsey Vlamis

Digital Strategy Manager, 1000EcoFarms

Kelsey manages online content at 1000EcoFarms, where she creates new content weekly on sustainable food news and policy. Previously, Kelsey worked as a city planner in Williston, North Dakota, and…