In 2016, Farmigo, an online farmer’s market, ended its delivery service. The company, which was lauded by TechCrunch in 2012, allowed users to shop online for locally grown food to pick up at locations near them. But just four years later, the venture-capital-backed business, which had raised $26 million in funding, said that it could no longer sustainably continue its delivery service.
For farmers, the consequence of Farmigo’s failure, and other services like it, was the loss of “a market for, literally, fields of products,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-owner of Hearty Roots Farm in Clermont, New York, and CEO of Farm Generations, a cooperative of farmers. The failures of businesses like Farmigo helped inspire Farm Generations to develop GrownBy, an app that aims to support small farms by using technology to better connect them to new and existing customers.
Launched in early 2021, GrownBy allows users to find farms in their area, order products, and sign up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) plans. Like Farmigo, users select their desired products and distribution points, where they meet with farmers for pick-up. But unlike Farmigo, GrownBy is backed by a cooperative — not venture capital — which means it serves farmers, rather than investors.
Shareable recently spoke with Shute about GrownBy, the co-op behind the app, and its aim of sustainably supporting small farmers. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
How does GrownBy work?
GrownBy is a phone and web app that connects farmers and shoppers. With a single login, you can shop from any participating farm — and if a farm hasn’t joined yet, you can invite them. For farmers, we make selling subscriptions and pre-orders easy with farmer-designed sales tools. Any farmer who sells on GrownBy is invited to join our cooperative.
What does it take for a farmer to join the cooperative? What benefits do they receive from the co-op?
Any farmer who makes a sale on GrownBy is invited to buy an equity share and join the cooperative. Members can vote on major co-op decisions, run for a board seat, and are eligible for profit sharing based on their sales.
Can you elaborate on the cooperative behind GrownBy? Are the co-op members all farmers, or do they include technologists, consumers and others too?
GrownBy is owned by the Farm Generations Cooperative. Membership is open to our farmer-members, and we’re looking to offer equity to our technical team in the near future.
Why did Farm Generations feel a service like GrownBy was necessary?
Farmers — and particularly small farmers — are critical to the health of our region and our nation. COVID demonstrated the significant risks of a highly consolidated food supply and why local food is more important than ever. GrownBy is built to support our small farms and help them keep up with consumer trends into the future. Our goal is to make buying local food convenient and accessible to everyone.
GrownBy is owned and built by farmers, which is also part of our mission to help small farms thrive. We have already seen a number of attempts to digitize local food sales and many of these efforts have come at the expense of producers, in one way or another. As a cooperative, we can guarantee that we are on the side of farmers.
You mention that other attempts at digitizing local food sales have come at the expense of producers. What does that expense look like? How does GrownBy avoid such issues?
Companies have lost the trust of farmers by making major decisions without their input. We’ve seen the price of services doubled, companies building aggregation lines of business that compete with direct producers, and local food delivery groups break promises, leaving farmers without a market for, literally, fields of products.
GrownBy will undoubtedly evolve, but as a cooperative we will always engage and be fully transparent with our farmer-members. We’re a tech company, but one that is deeply invested in the success of each of our producers. At the end of the day, our progress is measured by their financial well-being. We’re here to create a strong foundation for small farms now and in the future.
The other major advantage we have is how we’ve raised capital. Because we’ve built the company with community and public support, we are not under pressure to scale the business in a rapid and unsustainable way. We are looking to grow, but not in a way that sacrifices the quality of our product or the trust we’re building with the farm community.
What’s been the response to GrownBy from farmers and customers?
Everyone has been really happy because we provide the experience that both the farmer and the consumer are looking for. On the consumer side, we have an easy-to-use app that makes buying local quick and easy, and on the farmer side, we have a sophisticated tool for selling direct and saving time. We were lucky to have a great group of beta testers last season who helped us make a product that serves the whole community well.