Griffe Youngleson wanted to make farm-fresh food available through a few taps on a smartphone.
So he created a mobile app – for farmers, you, me, restaurateurs, chefs and anybody else who knows it’s important to eat fresh, healthy food.
The Farmzie app allows small farmers to conduct their business, from marketing to sales, online. Meanwhile, we consumers can shop a virtual farmers market to buy from the inventory of farms we choose based on what we need to plan our home or restaurant menus.
“We’re not a system that is obscuring the relationship between consumer, restaurant and farm,” Youngleson said. “We’re making it transparent, so the farm is always in direct connection with whoever is using their product.
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“We want you to connect and talk directly to the farms. It’s about building relationships.”
A native of South Africa, Youngleson, 29, moved to Raleigh three years ago by way of rural Rutherford County in western North Carolina. That’s where his family settled when he was 10.
At 17, Youngleson started ZURV, a marketing software development company.
When asked how technology could help reduce unemployment in Rutherford County, Youngleson’s cursory land survey found many out-of-work residents sitting on an acre of farm land. He learned farming – and the know-how – were two generations removed by the very textile industry that shipped abroad and left so many people jobless.
To the rescue were “growing schools,” which increased Rutherford County farms from four to 40. The model inspired and guided the birth of 300 new farms in North Carolina and South Carolina.
“We went from no food to too much food,” Youngleson said. “We didn’t know how to move it, or sell it.”
So in 2008, Youngleson launched the online Farmer’s Fresh Market. To help farmers gain access to the online marketplace, he called on partnerships to get them free computer training, refurbished computers and internet access.
Farmzie, which is free for farmers, is an off-shoot of the project. The program has 200 farms and 500 customers so far.
When online sales are made, customers can choose to pick up their orders at the farms or at other locations, including the State Farmers Market. Farmzie plans to soon pilot a delivery program in downtown Raleigh.
“The key to what we’re doing is we’re letting everybody participate in the food system,” Youngleson said, adding that the service is ideal for restaurants that don’t want to play a big part in the industrial food system. “We’re really trying to create this interconnected system – build a new food system that can run parallel to the existing food system.”
Mike Jones, a former agriculture extension agent who bought a farm in 2004 in Franklin County, recently joined Farmzie. Now consumers can buy from his business, Mae Farms.
“I’d already been paying attention to marketing trends and knew we needed to move in that direction,” said Jones, who sells products from the pigs, cows, chickens and ducks he raises.
“The modern customer likes technology and likes to be able to purchase from home,” he said. “The Farmzie platform gives customers the ability to make purchases online from small, local farmers just as they would from a bigger company and still support local agriculture.
“Even if they’re busy, all they have to do is swing by and pick it up.”
Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin is a champion of Farmzie as a way to bridge the urban/rural divide in our state and others.
“It’s a different way of looking at the universe, especially the way we move food and the way our food chain supply looks,” Baldwin said. “It creates a market for farmers in rural areas, and connects them with urban areas, easily without having to have expensive software and data systems.
“It’s a cool concept, and it’s one more thing that we’re doing in Raleigh to put innovation in the forefront.”