Big Opportunities Coming to Small Farmers | Bootstrap Farmer

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How Amazon & Alibaba Can Help Local Farmers Thrive

Technology is disrupting every single industry.  How we choose to react will determine our success or failure, and farming is no different. 

Most people assume we have to sacrifice our common sense and morals to live within a global economic food system.  I choose not to believe that.  At the end of the day, the decision is up to US as consumers.  And it is up to US as business owners to find ways to win the dollar of the consumer, which is a not much different from a vote.  It's just as real and impactful.

Our computers, clothing, automobiles and the like are going to be coming from other countries and avoiding that seems futile.  The US won't be producing much of the worlds fidget spinners or coffee anytime soon, and most of us understand why.  As economies grow and evolve, the dynamics of manufacturing & service based jobs change.

That said, should MOST of our FOOD be local? Of course!  That's common sense.  We shouldn't take for granted our relative luck that no major shocks have come to our food supply in the US in our lifetime. 

But with the world becoming more global, what's that mean for the local food movement?  I've been thinking a lot about this topic, looking for positive signs. 

Is the local food movement dead or will technology help it? 

I recently got some insight and a deeper understanding of what these changes might look like over the next several years.

Last week I attended the Gateway '17 conference in Detroit Michigan where Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba talked about what the future holds for the global food supply chain.  I was there with the understanding that no matter how much we idealize the promise of the local food movement, unless we make it affordable and convenient on a local scale, the reality is that most people won't make the effort or expense.  By now, we have exposed ourselves as a species. The majority of us will choose convenience over anything else.  We've got to work with the best of both worlds and reach our customers in a way that corporations will never be able to.

If you're not aware of what Alibaba is, it is an online platform connecting global manufacturers to sellers in a way that made it accessible and easy for small businesses to transact across the globe.  So much so, that the money that moves through their marketplace would equal the 21st largest economy in the world.  So for example, if you're growing a hard to find variety of ginseng, Alibaba can make it incredibly easier to get your products sold across the globe.

Alibaba has had almost as much to do with Amazon's success as does Amazon itself.  Alibaba & Amazon made it possible for scores of internet entrepreneurs to turn a product idea into an online company shipping worldwide in a matter of months.

With the pace of technology moving so rapidly, as an entrepreneur, I have to look a few years down the road to see how my business can fit in and where there might be opportunities to create the change I want to see in the world.  

My goal has been to find ways to navigate the idealism of the local food movement with practical solutions in a global economy.  Food provides security and we shouldn't rely on other countries for the majority of our food.   My Veg2Bowl Farm-to-Food truck model is one solution.  I can take control of the majority of the supply chain by harvesting, cooking  & delivering meals to customers the same day.  However, it's not realistic to think everyone wants to own a food truck, so more solutions are needed.

And there appears to be a big one...

Now, companies like Amazon & Alibaba are on the cusp of making fresh local produce available to all consumers on a mass scale.  Produce will soon go from farm to doorstep in as little as 3 days.  Whether you are a small, medium or large sized farm, I believe there's going to be an opportunity for all who want to participate.  Farmers who start selling their produce on Amazon will be put in front more customers than ever, without having to leave the farm.

Through my own experience in the world of Amazon storefront owners, I've got to see how quickly markets can grow with efficient supply chains and seller friendly platforms.  Fifteen years ago, if you wanted an oven mitt online, you maybe had 10-15 options to consider.  Now in Amazons marketplace, you've got 1000's which can be shipped to your door in 2 days.

We all know Amazon's Prime shipping continues to improve with same day shipping and even drone shipping.  It only makes sense that fresh produce makes its way in. 

And who better to learn from other than the recently acquired Whole Foods?

Technology- it's taking over.  Love it and hate it, but work with what's unavoidable. 

Amazon has been building warehouses across the US, so farmers who set up a 'fresh food account' (or whatever they'll call it) will be able to harvest produce in the morning with Amazon picking it up in the afternoon.  Once the food gets to Amazon's warehouse, orders can be processed and shipped the next morning.

No matter your opinion of Amazon, if you found a service that could put your produce to millions of customers all while handling the transportation & customer service, wouldn't you be interested?

Automation is coming in all sorts of ways whether we like it or not.  We can either take advantage of it, or be swallowed by it.  So thinking in terms of trends, if I can call one trend that never dies- it's the need for convenience.

Some people already don't leave their home to grocery shop.  Once local produce is available from those same online services, where would you predict this trend to be headed?  I'm at my local farmers market often and have taken the food truck there several times and I LOVE it.  But, would you say in the next 10 years, more or less people are going to be at these markets? The future is yet to be decided. 

The point of this post is, when other opportunities become available, it's better to be ahead of the game rather than late.  Diversifying income streams reduces risk.  The special thing about this opportunity, in my opinion, it's also a win for the local food movement. 

Never before did we have access to the same supply chains and broad customer marketplaces that companies like Monsanto and Sysco have enjoyed for years.   Their advantage has been in having the most efficient supply chains meaning lower prices, and fresher food over longer distances.  This near monopoly is coming to an end and will be replaced by small and medium sized farms levering the democratized platforms of Amazon and Alibaba. 

The same happened to the apparel industry.  GAP now competes with about 10,000 other tee shirt companies. 

Now it's coming to fresh food.


-Brandon Youst

Founder, Bootstrap Farmer

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