Have you ever eaten a meal at a restaurant and wondered where the ingredients came from? Was the spinach in your salad shipped across the country in a refrigerated box car for three days or was it picked a few hours ago on a farm two miles away? Which ingredient has the best nutrition value? Which choice supports the local economy? Which action connects neighbors and promotes community pride?
The answers are easy, and the fulfillment of them is rapidly becoming a reality in the Austin TX area. Thanks to a small group of young, green active, tech savvy innovators, residents supporting the success of their local food web are connecting through the web to benefit their local economy, healthy living, and community relationships.
I spoke with Mark Patrick Sullivan, one of growmingle’s partners, to get the green details.
Examiner: How did this idea start?
MPS: I met Bryan Heckler and Ryan Grulke through a work project. They were also beginning to develop an app to help local gardeners share home garden extras. In most home gardens, one crop always seems to produce a bumper crop and another lags. By developing an easy and user friendly way to share information and food, neighbors can support each other’s basic needs and live healthier lives. It also builds trust and social connections.
Examiner: And growmingle started here?
MPS: In 2011 we set out to create a simple app for Austin home gardeners to trade or donate their excess produce. As we gathered the necessary information for the app, we discovered some interesting feedback that required a change of course by 2013. Most (98%) of the over 6,000 people we polled nationally wished they could buy most, if not all, of their food and goods from a local producer, but they weren’t. And why weren’t they? It was perceived to be neither convenient nor affordable. Sadly- and we hate to admit this- we shared similar feelings ourselves. At that moment we realized it was a problem we needed to help solve.
Examiner: What else did you find?
MPS: We found farmers, gardeners, non-profits, restaurants, and other local businesses that were all hard at work trying to resolve this issue. We found buying local products to be far more convenient than your average trip to the market and it can be up to 40% less expensive than buying organic products at those same stores. What if we could help everyone see how easy and affordable supporting local producers of all kinds could be? Furthermore, how would this discovery positively impact hyperlocal economies and the producers within those neighborhoods?
Examiner: Where are you in the process now?
MPS: We have lots of documented data. We make sure the information we deliver is trustworthy and accurate. We confirm all restaurant entries on growmingle.com by first verifying with the sourcing farmer. If the farmer verifies the information we have about the restaurant, then we include an entry on growmingle for that verified restaurant. We will soon be sharing more about the verification process that we conduct and helping our users understand the diverse connections between the various members of the Austin local food web. Then we can jump into sharing the information.
Now we are developing the visualization tool- the concept of how all the information will connect, like Yelp for local food. For example, if you want a spinach salad, you will be able to use the app to find which restaurant has spinach salad available today, which farm sourced the spinach, tomatoes, or herbs for the dressing, and when they were delivered to the restaurant. It really can’t get fresher than that.
Examiner: How else will this app help the community?
MPS: growmingle will be the clearinghouse for the information. We are solving the disconnect and information fragmentation problems. Most people don’t know the relationships from farm to restaurant. We can profile grassroots organizations and businesses. Consumers can view the profiles, see the products made from a farm’s produce, and where to find them. Businesses can trace the money trail and work to yield higher output and income.
Examiner: How about home or hobby gardeners?
MPS: Ninety percent (90%) of the people we surveyed prefer local food sources. They believe local food is safer, eco-friendly, and tastes better than big market food offerings. They also believe local sourcing connects the community. The connections empower people to grow their own food. Randy Jewart of Resolution Gardens has helped over 1000 people plant food gardens of their own. They are eating what they grow.
Planting seeds for one’s personal food supply is total food transparency. The grassroots local food movement is the antitheses of industrialized supply. The process has been lost as society indulged into the industrialization of food supply and production. From the earliest days of people living together, food has been the local currency. We need to bring this idea back.
Examiner: How soon will the app be functional?
MPS: We anticipate it will be operational in under 6 months. We are excited to have people find out what is going on in the Austin area. People will be able to find new places growing and using local food and facilitate it.
Examiner: What does the future hold?
MPS: Within 9-12 months we plan to expand the idea into other cities. There are diverse and fascinating local food sources in cities all over the country. We want to get it right in Austin before we expand.
Examiner: Is sharing the food information the most important goal of growmingle?
MPS: Of course sharing food information so local people won’t be hungry is a goal. Empowering people to seek their own local food sources is also vital, whether they learn to grow it for themselves and share with neighbors, or seek outlets for local food products as consumers. But bringing in the social element is perhaps the major goal. Mingling people to develop strong community is even more important than the grow.
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