High-Tech Farming Brings Locally Grown Food to Oakland
Dedicated to creating a sustainable, healthy, alternative food system to traditional mass supermarkets, Farmigo will begin serving the Oakland community today at three area locations.
Farmigo connects local farmers and producers to consumers through an easy and convenient online platform, with food delivered to local community sites each week. The company hosts an interactive food network, enabling connections between consumers and farmers that build relationships within local communities. Farmigo says that every person has the right to fresh, local, affordable and sustainable food.
Colin Frolich, regional manager for Farmigo Northern California met Tina Ramos, aka Tina Tamale, spokeswoman and catering/mobile manager outpost manager of La Borinqueña Mexi-catessen and Specialty Shop, at a food networking event. He then did outreach to other shops and found there was a desire from other owners to build community, too, like Penelope Finnie of Bittersweet Cafe and Sophia Chang of Kitchener Oakland.
“We’re in the pilot phase of our new website relaunch, to focus more on communities,” Frolich said.
Farmigo - which takes its name from the words "farm" and "amigo," the Spanish word for "friend" - started three years ago as a solution to managing accounts for CSA's, or community-supported agriculture programs. The company helped farmers focus more on farming and less on account management. The new Farmigo Food Communities launch is incremental to the already existing CSA programs.
“As we started diving into neighborhoods were we wanted to be, we thought communities should be strong, as well as wanting to build community," Frolich said. "Oakland has those qualities.”
Frolich said Farmigo has specific criteria for potential farms to be eligible for partnering with communities like Oakland's.
“To become a good supplier, we wanted farms to be 1. organic and local; 2. have Internet access to be able to print labels for delivery; and 3. we didn’t want them to make extra trips to Oakland, so they had to already have someone coming to the Oakland or East Bay on Tuesdays," Frolich said. "We also wanted them to have a good selection and complimentary items to goods sold at pickup sites, like La Borinqueña, Bittersweet and Kitchener Oakland. For example, on Tina’s page, the berries from Yerena Farms are what Tina uses for her strawberry agua fresca.”
Ramos describes the Farmigo online experience as joining the concepts of fresh food and convenience.
“It’s kind of like an online concierge,” she explained, sharing that with the busy schedule she keeps running a business, she doesn’t really have time to shop at Farmer’s Markets for her own personal consumption at home.
“Farmigo makes available fresh wholesome food in a tech savvy way so that what we do now, which is order, then come to a long-standing family business like mine that has been in operation for 68 years, is pick up your box. Everything old is new again" Ramos said. "I’m excited for Farmigo because I can meet farmers and watch the seasons change, which is so natural yet so many people miss out on it because of the supermarket experience, where things come from all over the world. But natural food can be part of our modern life, part of what we do already. I’m very enthusiastic about it!”
“Tina has a good way of describing Farmigo as a farmer’s market concierge, bringing together all the farmers each week, with convenience, so you don’t have to worry about parking. It’s where you live and and work and play, without the extra trip to the grocery store and having to worry about the food being fresh, with a cool technology platform.”
An ethical selling point is that a substantial amount of the profits actually reach farmers - 87.5 cents on the dollar, versus 20 cents on the dollar gained through traditional supermarket models.
Penelope Finnie of Bittersweet Cafe and her partner, Diana Meckfessel, started signing folks up for Farmigo this week. The idea of CSA's always appealed to Finnie, but the fact that one can customize their box each week with Farmigo was also aligned with the Bittersweet mission.
“We’re not agricultural, but we do make everything from scratch,” Finnie admitted. “We make all of our hot chocolate drinks, bread for sandwiches and yogurt. In addition to produce, we hope people will subscribe to our Faultline drip coffee or hot chocolate, that they’ll also subscribe to Bittersweet. Subscriptions have really become how people are buying things now, especially things we know we want on a weekly basis, it makes sense. Being downtown, it seemed convenient for people to take dinner home, like getting groceries delivered to work, in a way. Farmigo really appealed to me as a consumer.”
Local food evangelists like Ramos and Finnie are what helps grow business for farmers, according to Frolich.
“Part of Farmigo strategy is engaging local food advocates who will spread the word and enthusiasm, too,” he said.
Sophia Chang of Kitchener Oakland, a commercial kitchen with a community conscience located in Uptown Oakland, also is looking forward to the launch of Farmigo.
“I reached out to Farmigo because I wanted Kitchener Oakland to become a CSA pick up spot. Having just learned about CSAs and falling in love with getting fresh vegetables every week, I wanted to make that more accessible to the people within my neighborhood," Chang said. "I believe Farmigo can bring people closer together to their food shed and closer with each other. After all, food is such a connector of people.”
Finnie also finds Oakland to be unique place to build community.
“The diversity of Oakland makes creating a community really fun and not homogenous at all," she said. "It makes each day fun, like walking into a cafe and seeing who’s there.”