Farm to Kitchen
Student entrepreneurs work to connect restaurants and farmers.
Sourcing local ingredients is easier than ever for St. Louis restaurants, thanks to Farmplicity, an online platform developed by students of Washington University’s Olin Business School.
Jolijt Tamanaha came up with the concept after watching the documentary “American Meat,” which focuses on the trials and tribulations of small farmers. Soon after, she signed up for an entrepreneurial class called The Hatchery, in which she teamed up with fellow students Drew Koch, Andrew Lin and Lauren Ortwein to further develop the idea as a class project. They built a prototype of the site for their class presentation and realized it could be more than just a classroom exercise. "Our prototype worked, so we thought, 'There's no reason not to put this on the internet," says Tamanaha.
Farmplicity.com went live in April, and in just a few months the site has accumulated 65 farmers actively using it to sell their wares and 63 restaurants, ranging from Local Harvest Cafe to Stone Soup Cottage to Norwood Hills Country Club, signed up to shop.
The concept is simple: Farmers join the site and create a listing of their products, including information like prices and delivery times. Restaurants access the online marketplace and search for specific farmers or browse by food categories. Just like any online shopping experience, there’s a shopping cart and checkout process, and the restaurant receives a single invoice. Meanwhile, the farmers are notified of the order and verify that they have the inventory to fill it. "It's basically a virtual farmers market," Tamanaha says.
Farmplicity makes its money through commissions on each sale, so there are no upfront membership costs for farmers. "We don't want to add to the costs that farmers already face to do business," she says. "If they don't sell anything, they don't pay anything."
Beyond continuing to grow the site, Tamanaha says Farmplicity would like to interact with local high schools to foster an appreciation for what farmers contribute to the area’s food industry. "Once you meet these people who grow this food, there's no way not to believe it’s incredibly important," she says.