My big project last winter was kickstarting a high profile vege box scheme with some friends for the Auckland region.
What’s a vege box scheme I hear you ask? It’s a service that offers box of local veges, mainly organic, delivered to your door of course! Now that’s all good and that, but what I didn’t expect to see quite so clearly was the reason why we mostly have mega farms and chemical food on the table.
Let me bring up Neil who I met along the way. He hated his job a dozen years ago. That’s because his job was to say to farmers “Sorry we can’t take your produce anymore, you’re too small, the supermarkets need bigger farms”.
You see it’s just simple arithmetic for a supermarket… dealing with one farm is cheaper than administrating and co-ordinating supply from 20 farms. With bigger farms comes mono-crop practices, that’s more chemical fertilizers and more sprays.
When Jim the Dirt Doctor came to speak to us I was impressed. His demonstration plot generates $45,000 of premium organic produce from land no bigger than a good ole kiwi quarter acre section. He blew away some of my pre-conceptions. He’s living proof that organic techniques combined with the best of science can grow at equal cost to chemical farming. Wow!
“Out of a ton of phosphate fertiliser dropped on crops only 5kg is absorbed by crops. That’s 995kg sinking through the soil, hitting our water table and sliming up our waterways.”
“95% of waterways in the South Island are now not safe to swim in”, he continued.
A month later on while on roadtrip through the South Island, I took some snaps of my old stomping grounds, they were pristine when I left them 20 years ago.
It occurred to me to solve this problem is not that hard…
We just need a way of distributing food that’s better matched to small farms.
Small is beautiful, small is kind to the environment.
That’s exactly why local food enterprises are so important. They’re also financially competitive. They’re in exponential growth worldwide just to prove that point.
There is one hiccup along the way to box scheme paradise.
That’s the amount of labour involved in administrating them. Imagine you’ve got 200 subscribers, that’s not enough to afford a dedicated IT system to handle things, so somebody is gonna have to wade through all the subscriptions, figure out who’s on holiday, who’s wants double this week, who cancelled, who’s new, and who owes what, send out the invoices, reconciliate payments, tell the driver what to deliver, predict next week’s supply needs, and am I boring you yet? This kind of stuff drives box scheme owners to Hari Kari and those that survive pay with one or two days of full time admin.
So Bucky Box became a sort of spin off idea from my summer’s involvement in setting up a box scheme to solve this exact issue.
It’s a web-app that does this stuff at the touch of a pretty web 2.0 button and doubles as a customer support tool. We’ve been trialling the prototype with great success for 5 months, and we’ve demoed it to a handful of other box schemes who upon seeing it can’t contain their glee and girly giggles…
After one such girly giggle I heard something important – it went something like this…
“you know, I had enough subscribers to start influencing growers to switch to organics, but without software like this I had to downsize, it was too much for my family life”
So this is my latest startup… Software for local food. It’s our first 100% Enspiral owned and incubated startup. Launching in beta, May 2011. Do drop by and look into the project.
~ Will Lau