Farmhand: A Crowdsourcing Platform for Farmers and Local Food Producers


farmhand_logo
farmhand_logo

Farmhand is a service that helps farmers and local food producers make their dream projects a reality. Created by designers Vidhi Goel, Lance Green, and Julia Plevin, this Kickstarter-meets-Good Eggs company gets food projects funded through crowdsourcing.

Farmhand is designed to make uploading projects—and supporting those projects—frictionless and easy. And one of the ways it does that is by removing "the hassles of rewards." “I don’t want to have to mail a wedge of cheese to everyone who supported me,” reported a dairy farmer at the Union Square Green Market, revealing that the burden of giving rewards to funders is one of the current barriers to entry for farmers interested in crowdfunding campaigns. On the supply side, research reveals that many people who support crowdfunding campaigns don’t do it for the rewards: “I wanted to support a cool cause; I don’t really need any more trinkets,” said a recent Kickstarter project supporter.

As part of the Better By Measure class, the project brief for Farmhand was to create a startup that either disrupted or supported a business. The group chose to disrupt Blue Apron—a service that home delivers ingredients and recipes for meal preparation.

The group felt that Blue Apron adds many new layers to the food system—introducing lots of unsustainable materials, packaging, and transportation fuel to the the equation—and instead endeavored to create a startup that connects people more directly to farmers and farmer needs.

As is often discovered through design research, the people closest to the problem frequently have the best solutions.

Following initial exploration, the group quickly honed in on innovating around the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) business model. Early interviews revealed that people—especially young busy people in urban environments—liked the idea of CSAs better than the actual experience of them. And since they like the idea of supporting farmers and a stronger local food system, the group asked themselves, "what is the best way to do that?"

farmhand_user
farmhand_user

Answering that question proved to be very challenging. Farmhand went through many iterations and pivots after talking to farmers around the country via Twitter, and conducting local interviews at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City.

“We want to get even closer to farmers as we launch Farmhand,” said Julia Plevin. “This isn’t the kind of company that you can start from New York City. We have to be out in the field, literally.”

A few key insights led to the final iteration of Farmhand. First, farmers need funding, but there is no simple, straightforward way to acquire it. (Strategies have ranged from collecting money via blog advertisements, to applying for government grants.) Second, farmers have more ideas for improving the local food system than entrepreneurs.

Through surveys, the group surfaced many of ideas that farmers already have for dream projects: Purchasing more land; building apiaries; switching to solar; moving to organic feed for animals; building poly-houses to extend the growth season; creating a youth entrepreneurial internship; and starting an educational children’s garden. As is often discovered through design research, the people closest to the problem frequently have the best solutions. Finally, farmers are already supporting each other’s projects through creative microfinancing.

farmhand_screen3
farmhand_screen3
farmhand_screen2
farmhand_screen2

Farmhand makes it easy for farmers to support each other, and for farm lovers to support farmers. Both the web platform as well as the mobile app create the pitch—the project creator—by combining factual information with video, automatically stitching them together into compelling narrative. “In an earlier iteration, we positioned ourselves as Kickstarter consultants for local food producers,” said Vidhi Goel. “We had someone who was interested in our services, but we quickly realized that people who are raising money don’t have funds available to pay for a bespoke service. So we designed an app and web platform that did more handholding, but was more automated.”

farmhand_screen1
farmhand_screen1

A big challenge for the future of Farmhand has been that some farmers are wary of people who don’t understand their business and all of the risks that that business entails. That said, younger farmers tend to be more open to apps and innovation. As one interviewee at the Union Square Green Market said in response to seeing the Farmhand prototype, “This is great—especially for young farmers like my friends and I. It’s hard to get started if you don’t have land.”

“We want to get even closer to farmers as we launch Farmhand,” said Julia Plevin. “This isn’t the kind of company that you can start from New York City. We have to be out in the field, literally.”

farmhand_mobile2
farmhand_mobile2

See more work from the designers here:

Julia Plevin: Website: juliaplevin.com Twitter: @juliaplevin

Vidhi Goel: Website: vidhigoel.com Twitter: @vidhiG_design

Lance Green: Website: LNCGRN.com Twitter: @LNCGRN