Building Local Communities with Good Food and Technology | Civil Eats

Building Local Communities with Good Food and Technology

Today’s world is budding with innovation…brand new systems created by a generation of people that find technology as familiar to their fingers as I find a wooden mixing spoon. We are seeing an emergence of people taking this newness and coupling it with craft, with older, perhaps simpler ways of life. Preserving traditional methods of quality by injecting a bit of adaptive contemporary sheen is introducing what may be a key to saving our planet. A perfect example of this in my own town goes by the clear-cut name of Santa Cruz Local Foods, an online Ebay of sorts where food and technology meet. Essentially, on a weekly schedule, farmers and producers register their items into the database while consumers login to shop. There is a single drop off and pick up location, money is handled through the facilitators of the website, and everyone goes home happy.

The two young folks behind this gem are Eleanor Taylor and Noah Pinck, both with farming backgrounds and a humongous passion for food and the preservation of diminishing varieties. After a series of events, bringing them to Santa Cruz, crossing paths with the creators of who happened to hand over the valuable software, and a failed land deal that opened up some free time, they are launching this site to the joy and excitement of our community.

The main goal is really to support small, local producers who might be facing the daunting amount of competition this area presents due to our climate and renown. My own farm is a case in point, and I discussed this issue in my last Civil Eats submission, Make Your Own Market. We are too small, yet too big, and now with Santa Cruz Local Foods, we have an outlet to sell some unique items to people that appreciate them but wouldn’t have otherwise found us. “Competition at farmers markets here is crazy and everyone is growing the same stuff. We really want to work with people that might just grow one thing and be able to provide fair market value to them. We also want to use this as a catalyst for building community through local food awareness, cooking classes on Youtube, local foods potlucks and tastings…there are so many ideas!” says Noah. His enthusiasm builds as he keeps talking, and I feel like I’ve found someone who gets it…always a great thing.

The online marketplace, definitely still in its infancy, already features some amazing products at good prices. We can order a pound of Claravale butter, some organic sourdough pizza rounds, a few bunches of fresh herbs, a jar of seasonal jam, and some tomatoes, and then swing by a central pick up location that is honestly, a whole lot more accessible than the weekly downtown farmer’s market tangle. This is not to say that I won’t still venture out to partake in the festive nature of our local farmers markets and grocers. But sometimes I do want convenience, I will totally admit that, and now we can feel good about supporting our local farmers, bakers, cheese-makers, canners, and ourselves, with this user-friendly shopping format.

Most importantly, this model could also be utilized in communities that may not have the glut of fresh, organic, healthy food at their disposal year round like we do. In towns where food deserts prohibit simple choices, urban sprawl where big box stores are the only shopping option, or in isolated rural locations in which one trip to the nearest town or city has to really count. This last spring, Steph Larson, one of the panelists at Cooking For Solutions in Monterey, discussed how appreciative she was of a very similar idea. As a rural policy organizer at the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska, she feels light years away from California’s glimmering local and organic food options. But relief has recently arrived in the form of an online co-op with a real time database of groceries and relay-style delivery system, hitting each main town across the state. That way, the customers can simply locate the nearest drop off location and make one trip to pick up their order, or band together with neighbors and share the driving responsibilities.

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These new systems, blending modern tools, social networking, and basic business concepts are sprouting up everywhere. We see them in online foraging sites, fruit exchanges, and produce donation forums. Whether free, for purchase, or as barter, these ideas are re-connecting people after a backlash of cold, Internet impersonality and dependency. We can re-examine the value of technology while creating stronger human-to-human support on a wonderfully local, delicious scale.

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Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to Civil Eats, various Edible magazines, and the San Jose Mercury News. Read more >

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  1. You may also be interested in what we are doing over at Small Farm Central -- providing technology tools to individual farmers to market their farm, sell their goods, and manage their CSAs.

    Farmers create beautiful farm websites with our customizable templates and then use our tools like blogs, ecommerce, csa management, calendars, mapping technology, and etc. All at a price that makes sense for the farm budget -- we know what the farm budget is like, because we've built a farm from the ground up.

    This is the largest network of it's kind in the country. Check it out and request a free demo of our service.
  2. This is a very exciting development! No need to apologive for "convenience" when what you are doing is making wise use of your time. Let's face: Farmers Markets are a lot of fun, but they are not a very efficient means of putting food on the table. For local food to compete with the established system, there need to be options like this to level the playing field.

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