Farmigo: A Farmer's Hi-Tech Friend (VIDEO) | Civil Eats

Farmigo: A Farmer’s Hi-Tech Friend (VIDEO)

Farmigo, a Web site devoted to helping Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers, is the latest innovation helping to build a bridge between consumers and farmers. Joining the ranks of other online food exchanges such as FoodHub, FarmsReach, Local Dirt, and Market Maker, Farmigo seeks to help improve farmers’ services to their CSA members, make their day-to-day operations easier, and increase their profitability.

Founder Benzi Ronen spent 15 years developing systems for Microsoft, Netscape, and SAP. Three years ago, he jumped off the corporate train to marry his passion for food to a sustainable business that he hopes will “make the world a better place.” Ronen delved into the world of food policy and emerged with a vision to share a hi-tech solution with farmers. He began his journey by visiting more than 100 CSA farms to learn firsthand what could make their businesses even more successful. Along the way, the farmers he met all shared common traits: an entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to grow the best quality food possible. Enter Farmigo—a tool designed to help farmers do what they love best: be in the field and not behind a desk.

Ronen’s research revealed that most CSA farms already use customized systems for their member lists; usually a hodge podge of e-mail, FileMaker, Access or Excel spreadsheets and they all have a basic Web site presence. Farmigo (its tech partner is Google) is designed for the unique needs of farms and leverages the Internet to provide farms with an affordable system (“software as a service”) while creating a transparent and convenient experience for their customers. The company, based in San Francisco, with research and development based in Israel, serves about 25 CSA farms nationwide, varying in size from 15 to 3,000 members.

“Farmigo provides the farmer with a system to effectively manage their customers and reduce the logistics overhead involved in the back-office operation,” Ronen said. “It also provides the farm’s customer with a Web-based experience so that they can interact directly with the farm and manage their account.” Ronen wants to be seen as a partner, not a vendor, to the farms, and as such, he views Farmigo as each farm’s friendly tech-team. He noted that the farms are already using Farmigo to manage their members for sign-up, payment, delivery, and ongoing communication, which, he said, is resulting in growth opportunities and happier customers.

Annie Salafsky and Sue Ujcic own and operate Helsing Junction Farm, a 30-acre organic farm in Rochester, Washington with a 900-member CSA, serving Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. They previously ran their CSA program on an Access-based data system and index cards. (Full disclosure: I worked for Helsing in the summer of 2006 and I am all too familiar with their index cards.) According to Salafsky, the most obvious and beneficial financial gain for Helsing has been the synchronized payment center that Farmigo provides: members join and pay online, the farms’ records are automatically updated, and members create and have control over their own accounts. Farmigo also now tracks their harvest in real time and then provides a clear record of what has been harvested, delivered, and how much was charged for the whole season. Harvest lists can be printed in both Spanish and English.

“Farmigo has allowed us to expand from 650 members. We now offer six different shares and via our Web store, can offer as many add-ons to the basic shares as we can dream up. We have a weekly fruit share, which has been bought via Farmigo by over 350 people,” Ujcic said. “We sell it, track it, and distribute it all using Farmigo, something that would have been downright impossible using our old system.” Helsing is now busy connecting with other local farms and producers, and plans on expanding their product line to include locally made sauerkraut, honey, nuts, and grains.

Terra Firma Farms, in Winters, California, is a 200-acre organic farm with roughly 1,300 weekly CSA boxes. They deliver to 40-drop sites in the San Francisco Bay Area year round and have three different size shares. Co-partner Paul “Pablito” Underhill said they have a relatively flexible CSA compared to most of Farmigo’s clients, whereby they only require a month subscription and allow subscribers to take “vacations” without suspending their subscriptions. Prior to Farmigo, Terra Firma used multiple technologies, which were not linked, including e-mail, Peachtree accounting (for accounting, billing, box labels, and delivery reports), Excel (to generate harvest and packing lists), and PayPal for online payments. According to Underhill, they wasted a tremendous amount of time transferring data and communicating via e-mail with subscribers about very basic issues.

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Calling it a work in progress, Underhill said, “Farmigo is an ambitious program to reconcile all of these needs,” Underhill said. “I think some of the more complicated problems we have with it are a result of our flexibility with our customers, which makes issues about timing very critical. Once a CSA is up and running, it’s not just the farmer who is accustomed to the way things work, but also the customers.” Underhill believes that Farmigo will eventually allow farmers who might be intimidated by the amount of administrative work involved in a CSA to start one without having to hire extra staff or create their own systems from scratch.

“After one season of adjusting, growing, and tailoring this new technology to our operation, I am happy we have it,” said farmer Thomas Broz of Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, California. “Farmigo has helped us from field to delivery, in many aspects of our operation. As a result we not only are able to handle our current number of members more effectively, but it is giving us capabilities and opportunities to expand and diversify in the future without increasing staff hours.” Live Earth was one of the first farms with which Farmigo worked and experienced some of the start-up’s growing pains, but Broz noted that Farmigo staff has been transparent and very receptive to feedback and helpful with technical support.

Ronen noted that Farmigo is only as good and effective as the farms ask them to be. Therein lies what Ronen referred to as the “innovator’s dilemma”: listening to customers and finding the best possible solution to their needs. “Farmigo is built by the farmers, for the farmers, and continuously captures best practices into new software,” Ronen said. “It’s a guidebook and provides the best way to build a box.”

Broz of Live Earth noted that Farmigo and other services such as Local Harvest are not just tools, but more of a partnership supporting small scale, diversified, direct market-focused farming operations. “In the big picture these services will play a factor in helping to build sustainable farming operations and food systems,” Broz said. “Which ultimately is what we all aim for.”

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Naomi Starkman is the founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats. She was a 2016 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford and co-founded the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Naomi has worked as a media consultant at Newsweek, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, WIRED, and Consumer Reports magazines. After graduating from law school, she served as the Deputy Executive Director of the City of San Francisco’s Ethics Commission. Naomi is an avid organic gardener, having worked on several farms.  Read more >

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  1. Bringing farmers and consumers together sounds like a great new technology. I love the comment in the video about biting the first fruit of the crop -- must be very satisfying indeed.

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