This post is part of our series, Favorite Stories. Think of it as a collection of entrepreneurs, products, and ideas that are inspiring Dwolla everyday. Want more? Find this story and others on Dwolla’s Pinterest board. Enjoy!
When we pay for food from the grocery store, many of us may think that we are paying the farmer for their wares. However, only about $0.16 from every dollar spent on a food product reaches the farmer. The other $0.84 goes to the diesel in the truck that is transporting the food, the cost of storing until sold, the people who sell it to grocers, the chef that prepares your meal, the satellites and databases that track shipments, the workers and forklifts in the warehouses.
Plovgh is a marketplace and distribution network for independent farmers, fishers, and food artisans that improves producers’ profitability by providing customers with a connection to directly sourced goods. They have a long-term vision of transforming agriculture in a way that gives the power back to the growers, and cuts away at the costs imposed by the middlemen – the wholesalers, distributors and retailers. They do this by connecting you with producers near you.
I was lucky enough to be able to pose a few questions to the founder, Elizabeth Greene, about what inspired her along her journey to start Plovgh, and how she got the business up and running.
What inspired you to start Plovgh?
I grew up around people who live and breathe agriculture. My granddad ran Cargill when I was a kid and our family is also in the cattle business, so corn prices, weather, and exchange rates were dinner table conversation. After spending two summers in India working on initiatives to incorporate very small cotton growers into international supply chains, I realized how inefficient (and, in many cases, corrupt) the entities are that have traditionally mediated the relationship between producers and their customers. I was studying at MIT at the time, so I was surrounded by technologists and strategists who were thinking really creatively about how technology could shift whole sectors of the economy. That no one else was attempting a major revision of the agricultural sector seemed to me a huge opportunity both because of the global need for better outcomes for farmers and people, but also because of the magnitude of the challenge of reinventing a system that everyone relies on.
How did you get started with your business?
Plovgh is organized around routes that connect farms with their customers – it’s like a roving warehouse which means that we can significantly reduce the time from harvest to consumption, which not even Whole Foods can do. We found out pretty quickly that distribution is a major factor for independent farms, and that without a logistics component no online tool will successfully market food and agricultural products because timing is so sensitive for many products. Right now we’re initiating routes both with our own network of farms, but also through relationships with organizations like Slow Food NYC, which has done great work identifying and supporting farms that produce high-quality products and manage their farms conscientiously. We’re always looking for more farms to join the network though!
Can you share one of your favorite stories or experiences?
Last summer, one of my favorite farms offered mixed greens by the pound. The farm announced the harvest, customers ordered on Plovgh, and the farmers harvested the greens at 6 am the day of the delivery. Needless to say, the greens were phenomenal. Out of curiosity, I checked what organic mixed greens were going for at an online grocer, and what I found made me very happy: the prices from the farm on Plovgh were 20% lower than the prices for mass-produced, over-packaged, harvested-a-week-ago greens sitting in a warehouse.
Through Plovgh, the farm made far more than it would have selling to a store that would have marked up the product (farms typically get $0.19 on the retail dollar when they sell wholesale). Meanwhile, Plovgh customers paid less for a higher quality product. That shift in how value is distributed among the most essential participants in a food economy is at the core of this company, and it was inspiring to see the transformation in action.
Where do you look to find inspiration in your job?
I take great inspiration from my peers who are forging conscientious commerce. Luckily, my founding team fits that description! Our brainstorm sessions can get intense but we are dead set on making farmers’ jobs easier and getting higher quality food into communities around the globe, so there’s a lot of material to work with. The best part of a brainstorm is to then take the ideas out into the world and talk with producers and customers about how Plovgh can serve them best. The exchange of ideas keeps me going day in and day out.
What is one important lesson you’ve learned from your journey into building your own business?
Perhaps the most lasting lesson I’ve learned is the need to balance a very big picture (I dream of the day when Plovgh provides access to capital, crop insurance, and production planning tools to farmers around the world) while implementing methodically. I’m a futurist who is trying very hard to live and work in the present. Holding a view of what Plovgh could be with what Plovgh is today, and where it needs to get tomorrow in order to deliver that long-range vision, is the hardest part of my job, and a skill I’m still honing.
How do you use Dwolla in your business?
Plovgh supports people, groups, companies, and movements that take bold steps toward making commerce more meaningful. We are very excited to take Dwolla payments on Plovgh because our companies are very well aligned – both take out inefficient intermediaries. Now when you place an order on Plovgh you see two prices – the standard price and the Dwolla price that benefits both customer and producer. Both companies also focus on activating a network of local buyers and sellers so Plovgh was pleased to join up.
Elizabeth’s vision excites us – and it’s not unlike our own. Cutting out the pricey middle elements to bring value back to the producer or merchant and their customers. Plovgh is currently only available in New York City (log in to find producers near you), but they welcome those who would like to help get additional locations started – as a farmer, a market manager, or a community member – by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.