August 6th 2015
Are you a locavore? If you frequent local farmers markets, know all the farm-to-table restaurants in your town, or simply passionate about enjoying the freshest ingredients possible, then yes,you are. The good news is, you are not alone. Over 69% of consumers are deciding where to eat everyday for the same reasons. Locavores are people who consume locally-grown food. . The average piece of food consumed in the U.S., travels over 1,500 miles before it reaches your plate. Eating local isn’t just a lifestyle, it generates positive social change by supporting local farms, improving environmental health, and stimulating the local economy.
In Rhode Island, supporting the local food economy is difficult when 90% of all food in the state is exported, while 90% of food consumed in the state is imported. The demand for local food is there, but for many restaurants, grocery stores, school systems, hospitals, universities, and farmers, there is a disconnect.
The growing demand for local food is great for local producers such as, farmers, fishermen, and artisans, it also presents a wide variety of challenges. Small purveyors lack the resources necessary to manage the influx of wholesale purchaser’s orders through the many channels of communication such as email, text, phone call, and fax. They also lack the resources to have or hire a sales representative or develop their own online ordering platform, which can cost as much as $100,000.
The increasing demand benefits local purchasers too, but is equally as challenging. Chefs who order the food spend countless hours just finding local producers and the items they really need.
WhatsGood is an online marketplace that uses web and mobile applications to connect wholesale purchasers directly with the locally available sources around them in real-time. Their mission is to strengthen the local food economy by enhancing communication and enabling E-commerce between purchasers and producers within local food ecosystems…
WhatsGood’s founder and CEO Matt Tortora is a recent graduate of Johnson and Wales University. Matt’s idea for WhatsGood came after his most recent gig as a chef at the restaurant Jamestown Fish in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Matt watched the local food economy develop in Rhode Island through his interactions at the restaurant. He says, “In my 5-mile commute to work I would drive by 4 farms . I would go in the restaurant and look out the kitchen window at the Narragansett Bay and see fishing vessels returning with their bounty.” For Matt, Rhode Island’s unique geography and environment gives restaurants an advantage because there are so many amazing ingredients available and everything is in such a close proximity. He believes the key is in simply finding them more easily.
Rhode Island is the Ocean State. It’ s known for its seafood, especially squid. Rhode Island harvests more squid than anywhere else in the world. Matt remembers opening an order of locally caught RI squid and discovering a “processed in China” label on the box. After investigating why, he learned that it is cheaper for the company distributing the squid to pack it up and send it across the world to be processed in China. “It was a moment I put in the back of my mind and eventually became the catalyst for WhatsGood.”Matt Knew he had to do something to help change things. Food grown and harvested in Rhode Island should stay in Rhode Island .
The purpose of WhatsGood is to keep local food in the local economy. Matt explains, “WhatsGood has the ability to do more than just give a restaurant a good product or that famer another place to sell, this is where the social impact really comes in; it can create jobs, it is a tool to drive revenue, and help a lot of different businesses sustain themselves.”
Large institutions and food hubs, emerging agriculture businesses, are catching on. One study found that farm-to-school programs grew 430% from 2007 to 2012. Similarly, regional food hubs increased 288% between 2007 and 2014. WhatsGood is working with Johnson & Wales University, Brown, UMASS Amherst, and other colleges and universities to meet the growing demand for local food in school dining facilities.
As for food hubs, Matt has a plan for that demand too. He explains, “We are focusing on the momentum that food hubs are gaining, and have noticed that a lot of these farmers are fairly new to the industry, farming is becoming the new start-up. Our plan is to determine who the centers of the hubs are which connect the key spokes to the rest and provide an enhanced platform to conduct business. WhatsGood will launch sub platforms into these areas.”
Part of developing the local food sector is helping small purveyors run their businesses more efficiently and getting more people to work in the food sector. To respond to this need, Social Enterprise Greenhouse is launching a food specific accelerator this winter. Matt believes it is an important cog in advancing the industry here in Rhode Island. He says, “A lot of our customers are coming in with less than five years of farming experience , and a food accelerator that can bring a new chef or a new farmer to the market and give them the tools and strategies they need to grow their business is really the best thing to bring to the industry right now.”
Matt’s goal for WhatsGood is to refocus local economies around food. He says, “I want to provide growth into these smaller economies that really don’t have much industry going on. We want to deliver ‘WhatsGood’ to this essential industry.”
WhatsGood is currently in private beta-testing while they fine tune their online service. From just 2 accounts here in Rhode Island in April of this year they have grown to over 180 and are now active in 10 states and have even had accounts sign up in South Africa. They hope to bring the product to the public market in less than a year. To get on board and join the local movement check out their website.
Student Venture Intern
Jessica Kaufman is the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Student Venture Intern for Summer 2015. She is working under the Social Enterprise Greenhouse University Initiative, which is funded through the Blackstone Charitable Foundation Innovation Grant to retain students and recent graduates in Rhode Island through enabling them to work on and in social enterprises. Her work centers around documenting the success stories of student and recent graduate social ventures. Learn more about Jessica here.