Food hubs help farmers and food producers who don't have the time or interest in building a web presence or finding new channels of distribution, but also don't have the wholesale volume necessary to sell to major grocery chains. Relay Foods, a D.C.-based aggregator like Good Eggs, or Green B.E.A.N. Delivery, a Midwestern one, help small businesses reach larger audiences while also offering services like order-tracking, accounting, and online marketing. In return, the businesses are willing to let the company take a portion of their profits.

"There's no way I could build the tools they're building [at Good Eggs]," says ShaeLynn Watt of Early Bird Ranch in Pescadero, who used to spend 16 hours a week organizing orders for her pasture-raised eggs, chicken, and pork on Google spreadsheets. She's more than willing to let the company take 25 percent of her revenue for each delivery, and 6 percent for the direct orders she manages herself using the Good Eggs platform. "My time is better spent producing delicious food and building better relationships with my customers," she says.

A food hub like Good Eggs also expands the reach of small producers like Watt and others, who can only attend so many farmers' markets and deliver so many orders per day. Sadie Scheffer of Bread SRSLY, a gluten-free sourdough baker, used to deliver all of her bread on bike, and now says she's enjoying a much larger audience for her bread through the site. "I have two bikes and no drivers license. There's no way I can get bread to Mountain View, let alone across the bridge somewhere. ... We can outsource the distribution and know the product is being delivered alongside other local, sustainable, organic stuff."

Yaron Milgrom stands in his  market's future home.
Camila Bernal
Yaron Milgrom stands in his market's future home.
A rendering of Local Mission Market, which set to open on Harrison in September.
Rendering by atelier KS, courtesy of Yaron Milgrom
A rendering of Local Mission Market, which set to open on Harrison in September.

But can it be made to reach everybody? Rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber have been criticized for only being available to a segment of the population with smartphones and without wheelchairs; the same criticism could apply to local food aggregators whose pricing and tech requirements might put it out of reach of many.

To address this disparity, the USDA is working with nonprofits and other versions of food hubs to make services available to underserved families. A recent survey conducted by the agency found that 40 percent of food hubs were serving populations in so-called "food deserts" who don't have regular access to fresh ingredients. The USDA talks about nonprofit CSAs, spending programs offering SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what used to be known as food stamps) incentives for shopping at farmers markets, online buying clubs where lower-income customers can buy bulk produce and protein at reasonable prices.

The Internet also can better connect customers with farmers who have excess or unattractive but perfectly edible products, and businesses like LocallyGrown.net, Local Food Marketplace, Local Orbit, Lulu's Organic Food, and Oklahoma Food Cooperative are providing open-source software for farmers and producers to band together and create their own food hubs online.

The result, at all ends of the financial spectrum, is that new technology is building a system of food distribution that, in the retro weirdness of food culture, looks something like the way things were before the supermarkets began their fluorescent domination of the landscape in the mid-20th century.

A hundred years ago, food markets were composed of small, family-owned farms working together in a community. Local markets used to be neighborhood meeting places, spots where you'd know the people behind the counter by name and maybe trade gossip as you waited for them to weigh out your purchases. Groceries were local, seasonal, and organic by default, prior to advances in shipping and pesticides. Giant, untraceable food chains, self-service, and the sense of isolation that comes with both were side effects of the rise of the supermarket.

While technology is enabling a return to some of these older values that our grandparents took for granted, not all of the markets are virtual ones. In September, a new market is opening in the Mission that will cook, package, label, and sell everything on-site. Local Mission Market is the latest venture from Yaron Milgrom and Jake Des Voignes, co-owners of nearby restaurants Local's Corner and Local Mission Eatery, and their vision for the future of marketing is as quaint as it is cutting-edge.

"There's something different about seeing the person who makes your food. That level of connection is part of appreciating the food you're making," Milgrom says. To that end, nearly half of the 2,700-square-foot market on Harrison between 22nd and 23rd will be devoted to an open demonstration kitchen, where customers can see a team of chefs assembling everything sold in the store beyond meat, produce, and dry ingredients: yogurt, soup, bread, pasta, hot sauce, pickles, jams, crème fraiche. You name it, they probably have plans to make it. Shoppers will be able to converse with the butcher as he prepares a requested cut of meat, or with the baker as he mixes up that day's batch of cinnamon rolls (a candlestick-maker isn't in the original vision, but probably could be if there's enough demand).

House-brand groceries aren't exactly revolutionary — Trader Joe's sticks its name on hundreds of outsourced goods, and Bi-Rite Market already makes much of its food in-house, or through a third-party that prepares it to the market's strict specifications. But both markets also sell other people's food, and in that sense, they're more like boutique versions of regular grocers (as eco-friendly and committed to local sourcing as Bi-Rite is). Local Mission Market is taking things one step further. Milgrom wants nothing less than to revamp the entire shopping experience.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
12 comments
ahrengrauer
ahrengrauer

I'm an ex-pat living in Panama. The best produce you've ever had, chicken that actually has flavor, seafood is probably the best in the world. I don't see traditional shopping changing much here.

jenrose1
jenrose1

We started a local co-op about a year ago, in Oregon. It was kind of an accident, but once we started ordering our food as a group, it really took off. Now I get more than 80% of the food we eat from the co-op. We quip that we came for the prices and stayed for the quality. Being able to order the week's organic produce in my jammies and only having to pick it up once a month (people in my neighborhood deliver it the other weeks), combined with near-wholesale pricing  that makes organic produce, grass fed meats and gluten free baked goods affordable is an addictive combination. Not to mention the way it makes working with local farmers easier for us and for the farmers. There is almost no waste to our model, less gas, time and energy spent shopping, less money going out, better quality food coming in... I still buy the occasional stick of butter and bag of chips from our local grocery stores, but our diet has shifted to being more local, more seasonal, and a hell of a lot healthier. Time I used to spend shopping is now spent cooking. Instead of 3-4 shopping trips per week, I now make 3-4 shopping trips per month, and those are much smaller than they used to be. 

Social networks and the cloud make it possible for groups of people without tremendous programming skills to put together thriving groups that use google spreadsheets to order together in bulk. Facebook makes it easy to connect with people in the area. We've gone from a whim to 1100 members in under a year. We're eating the way we want to eat, and paying prices that don't hurt, while doing less harm to our planet. I finished my kid Christmas shopping in September. The adults will be taken care of this month. Our model means everyone is paid up front for exactly the amount of product that is needed. It is an efficient model. We are fortunate to have volunteers so that our overhead is very low, but even on a retail scale, the convenience and quality of food-on-demand vs. more "predictive" attempts to meet anticipated needs has much to offer.

mamablum
mamablum

I love Good Eggs and all that you stand for! It has been a joyful, healthful and exciting change in our lives!! Did I mention convenient? Each and every product I have received thus far has been absolutely fresh and delicious. I am into my third "big" order with you all and I rarely go to the "supermarket".  We are so fortunate to have this abundance in our own backyards. Love it all~here's to our health and the farmers who care!

lakawak
lakawak

Supermarkets will be around long after the last welfare recipient who "worked" at the SF Weekly has been laid in the ground.

thecrud
thecrud

The grocery store is now only for the rich or those with food stamps everyone else has to find another way, churches hunting growing your own barter rob and steal traffic drugs.


Barbara Mcwilliams
Barbara Mcwilliams

I learn something new every day & this qualifies as 'wonderful'.

Dante Forrest
Dante Forrest

Good the supermarket with chemical GMO food will be extinct

Parvati Ben
Parvati Ben

I saw this coming, bought on to it. Great idea. I'm a Good Eggs regular now.

thecrud
thecrud

@lakawak @thecrud 

Too bad you are to young to remember every shopping cart full to the top at the store. Not 3 items as they have today or standing in the meat departments not even half the size they use to be, just standing there not putting any in their carts.

You moron. Guess you have no powers of observation unable to draw a conclusion with a crayon. And no life other than troll unable to add anything useful to any public conversation.

A true loser.

 
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.
Loading...