On a blazing hot Saturday in Los Angeles last month, the Venice High School Garden, also known as The Learning Garden, hosted the latest in a years-long string of community events – this time, a “Tomato Late Harvest Summer Tasting,” hosted by local startup Cropdots.
Cropdots is a mobile peer-to-peer marketplace that allows local food producers nationwide to connect with and sell to local eaters. Users can photograph and list what they are growing, connect with local shoppers, and sell their produce right in their own neighborhood. I had the chance to talk with Jennifer Arrington, creator of the Cropdots mobile app, while tasting local tomato bruschetta that was sourced within a three-mile radius.
Arrington explained that it was difficult to find time to go to the farmers’ market due to her busy schedule, and even when she had the time to go, she was frustrated at the high prices and the fact that most vendors only accept cash. Then during a late-night grocery run at a local supermarket, she was frustrated to see organic peppers from Holland.
“There's got to be a better way to do this, I thought to myself,” Arrington said. “When we don’t buy local food, nutritional value is lost in transit - not to mention food miles’ impacts on climate change.”
That a-ha moment led her to start brainstorming solutions, which developed into Cropdots, with a business model that empowers communities to grow their own food locally, encourages urban agriculture and supports the local food movement.
Demand for locally grown and natural food is going mainstream. According to Cone Communications’ 2014 Food Issues Trend Tracker, nearly nine out of 10 Americans (89 percent) say they consider where a product is produced when making food-purchasing decisions, and two-thirds (66 percent) would pay more for food that is produced close to home. The rise in popularity of urban agriculture and the farm-to-table movement has created opportunities with schools, community organizations, the USDA, and even the United Nations.
Now with Cropdots, everyone can get involved in the local food system without the hassle and expense. Users can set fair prices for their produce or elect to donate to members of their communities. Connecting with local eaters is easy with the in-app messaging service. You can opt to deliver, set a pickup time and location, or have Cropdots take care of pickup and delivery for you. Buyers can favorite listings and provide testimonials for sellers. The app is currently showing produce within a 10-mile radius but Arrington says extra capabilities will be added to the app soon so that users can set how far away listings can be viewed.
Arrington said one of her main challenges is a lack of supply, due to a lack of local infrastructure. People who are growing food are mostly growing enough for themselves, and most people live in apartment complexes, which don’t have the space to grow enough food to share. Her solution is to hack supply by taking advantage of Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Legislation (AB 551). This bill aims to increase use of privately owned, vacant land for urban agriculture and improve land security for urban agriculture projects.
“Unfortunately there aren’t many people doing market gardens right now,” she said. “I’m talking with state representative and Los Angeles city council to source plots that can be used for market gardens.”
When asked how vendors can self-standardize pricing, she explains that since the service is community-vetted, if it’s too expensive, people won’t buy it. She is creating a free market approach and letting neighborhoods decide how to set prices on their own.
When I ask her about the percentage of local produce available through Cropdots, she admits: “Our mission is to be your community-driven source for buying and selling all things local, organic, and environmentally sustainable. Right now, we don’t control if the produce is organic but in my experience most of the small food growers are aware of the benefits of organic produce and they are growing organically. Maybe in the future we’ll have incentives for organic producers.”
The app went live last year in May and the beta version was launched in November. Arrington proudly states that Cropdots has users all over the country and has even picked up pace in other countries. The app is currently in English and supports only US dollars but next steps are adding other languages and currencies to make it efficient for everyone around the world. Finding venture funding is also another next step for Cropdots.
Do you have a fruit tree that keeps on giving and you are tired of making jams with the extra produce you have every year? Or maybe you don’t have time to go to farmers market like Jennifer? Next time when your tree bears fruit, or you know you won’t be able to make it to farmers market, make sure to use Cropdots!