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Cal Poly grads reinvent online farm-to-table shopping

Jess Wilcox

Founders of Farmgram, an online farmer's market, are hoping to make their product the main way people on the Central Coast buy food for their families.

Tyler Thomas and Adrian Godby are the co-founders of Farmgram and recent Cal Poly Architecture graduates. Regulars to the Thursday night farmer's market in San Luis Obispo are probably familiar with the two, holding their produce checklists, loading carrots, kale and strawberries on to their wagons.

"They kind of wonder what we're doing because by the end of it we have our wagons stacked high with all these boxes of produce," said Thomas.

Godby described how their business has created a strong familiarity between the farmers and them. During the market, they will often see farmers they know and engage with friendly greetings. 

After customers place their orders, Farmgram collects, packs and delivers them. There are several programs like this in California and on the Central Coast. A lot of these are Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes provided by organizations like SLOVeg, Talley Farms in Arroyo Grande or Plow to Porch in Santa Barbara.

The difference between a CSA boxes and Farmgram is that Farmgram is entirely customizable. Whereas, other programs provide a boxes corresponding to the size you'd like for your family. 

Andrea Chavez, manager of Talley Farms's Fresh Harvest program, says their customers like their program because they care about eating local. "We grow it and they trust us," Chavez said. 

Although, CSA boxes aren't customizable, Chavez said their customers are willing to try new things because they support eating seasonally, "But they don't want weird things. They want things that they can use everyday."

Because Farmgram customizes their boxes, their process is a bit different. Each week farmers send out lists of produce they have available, these go on the website for customers to view and place orders.

Jerry Rutiz, a farmer in Arroyo Grande, sells his produce on Farmgram. 

During a typical week, Rutiz sends Farmgram a list of food he has available, and brings their order to their office for them to distribute. Farmgram delivers other local goods beyond the farm like honey, cheese and bread. They pack the customized boxes and deliver to them various homes.

They said they feel they bring people food and education through their service.

"It's such a part of your life. People have to eat in order to survive and to have that be one of those things that you're really connected with, it kind of just changes your whole food experience," said Godby.

Godby says knowing where your food comes from, who they farmers are, how it's grown and cooking it yourself completes this food experience.

"We think that this should be the way you get your groceries if you're not shopping at farmer's market, because it's helping support these farmers who are making their living off of farming," Thomas said.

Like a lot of programs to help people connect with how their produces is grown, Farmgram shares recipes on their website, and creates profiles for their farmers to emphasize education .

Rutiz said he feels people want to identify with their food. "I think that people want to know, especially in the last ten years or so, they want to know where there food is coming from," said Rutiz.  "Where was it grown? Was it grown on a farm in Arroyo Grande, close by to their house? Or was it grown in Florida?"

Although some are passionate about knowing where they food is grown, for others the convenience of the American supermarket just outweighs a service like this. Farmgram or a produce stand isn't going to supply household goods like toilet paper, or toothpaste or internationally imported produce.  

"If people are going to want those things for their household they're still going to have to make a trip to the grocery store, a more conventional store situation, to get those things," Rutiz said.

For businesses like Farmgram, this adds another element to their approach.

"I think what it really comes down to is changing peoples' habits. So what we have to do is teach them that local food, not only, tastes better, it's better," Godby says.  "You're helping other local businesses. it's better for the community. But we have to change their habits to now instead of going into a grocery store, now they're buying things online."

This October will be the team's one year anniversary for running the website.

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