Instagram has been gaining massive popularity in the past decade, especially when it comes to food blogging. As of June 2018, 1 billion people use Instagram and according to The Washington Post, a Maru/Matchbox study found that 69 percent of millennials take a picture or a video of their food before eating. As the trend for food blogging on Instagram has skyrocketed, millennial food culture has undergone major changes.

 

Instagram has been discriminatory with certain foods, particularly colorfully saturated snacks. Users can choose to follow channels like @foodys and @foodporndaily1 to get their dose of saturated, sinful bites that might look too good to be true. Despite these irresistible-looking treats, a subgroup of food lovers has become increasingly dissatisfied with the quality and taste of these items. A glittery, pink and purple Starbucks drink labeled the “Unicorn Frappuccino” went viral on Instagram during its limited period in April of 2017. Despite the drink’s aesthetic appeal, Chris Riotta, a reviewer at Newsweek wrote, “To be clear, this is the worst drink I have ever purchased in my life.” In 2014, New York Times food critic Pete Wells coined the term “camera cuisine,” referring to expensive restaurants drawing customers from their picturesque dishes. Wells noted that the rise in plating aesthetics appeared to be intrinsically connected with a decline in taste, finding that camera cuisine’s “purest form…is both exquisitely photogenic and peculiarly bland and lifeless.”

 

On the other end of the spectrum, healthy eating has made a huge wave in the online social media community. According to The Guardian, chia seeds, grains, cactus water and more all emerged as top food trends of 2016. Interestingly, social media has also helped eaters be accountable for their diets. Interviewees who kept track of what they ate for a University of Washington research paper found that Instagram helped them stick to their own tracking and healthy eating goals, made them more honest about their eating habits and allowed followers to show support.

 

Restaurants recognizing the potential nascent advertising benefits of Instagram have gone to great lengths to keep up with the social buzz. The owner of Grind, a London café-bar chain, has spent the last five years trying to make his entire company more “Instagrammable” and as culture savvy as possible. In 2016, Grind replaced every table in the company with white marble to improve customers’ Instagram pictures.

 

Restaurant tactics appear to run the gamut in order to please their photography-oriented customers, and there is evidence of their financial success. The one-day Square Shake campaign by Sonic increased their follower base by 11,000 users. Starbucks, a marketing giant on Instagram, has averages over 200,000 likes on each post according to a study conducted by JMIR Public Health and Surveillance. With the release of the Unicorn Frappuccino, global same-store sales increased by three percent for the second quarter.

 

Other businesses, however, dislike the idea of catering to Instagramming millennials. James Lowe, head chef and owner of Lyle’s in London has noted that this photogenic food culture has led to chefs “cooking for pictures”–putting a dish together without concern for taste and focusing exclusively on aesthetic. Japanese deli Auradaz in Leamington Spa has banned diners from using their mobile phones in his restaurant, citing that eating is a social experience and not one to be saturated with social media.

 

The rise in Instagramming food altered business strategy has changed consumer behavior. The Waitrose survey states that nearly 40 percent of consumers worry more about presentation compared to five years ago. According to research by Zizzi, the average 18-35-year-old spends five whole days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30 percent would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.

 

In the future, restaurants can expect to see a spike in millennials willing to expand their palate and try more adventurous foods. With the rise of both sugary foods and healthy eats, polarization in diets among the millennial population may be on the horizon. Restaurants who do not take advantage of the growing social media platform may risk a decline in younger customers. Meanwhile, hearty foods with less visual appeal could disappear depending on whether epicures and food critics grow in number. Instagram has undoubtedly revolutionized the types of food we eat, the restaurants and vendors who sell them and food culture as a whole.

 

I recently went to Providence, Rhode Island to attend Brown University’s spring weekend. Massive concerts, blasting music, tipsy teenagers and ringing ears were the sights and sounds for the weekend, but the taste that I left with was unexpected. Food trucks littered the Providence streets and I soaked it in. Cheeseburgers, crepes, quesadillas – you name it, they had it within a mintue’s walk from the concerts. People wanted food, truck owners supplied it and the booming business kept a steady pace throughout the evening. My experience that evening provided me a glimpse into a booming industry currently hauling in over 800 million in revenue. Last year’s revenue logged a 3.5 percent growth and, in a 2012 article, Lauren Helper of Silicon Valley Business Journal even projected the U.S. Food Truck industry revenue to soar to well over $2 billion in the next few years.

So what is fueling the food truck industry? Many speculate that while it might seem like a temporary fad, the food truck industry will become a much more viable market opportunity than people anticipate. To start, market entry is easy because the process is relatively cost efficient – trucks are not very expensive and the amount of capital required to create and run a food truck is much cheaper than the amount required for a “brick and mortar” restaurant. On average, food trucks cost around $55,000 to $75,000, which is significantly less than the $250,000 to $500,000 standard cost of a brick and mortar operation. Aside from the start-up costs, operation costs also run at a level much cheaper than restaurants. Costs are derived from a combination of inventory (27 percent), truck insurance, repairs, fuel (26 percent) and wages (18 percent) to other factors such as fuel, licenses, websites and accessories (29 percent).

On average, most companies generate upwards of $85,000 in costs while revenue can reach around $290,000. Together, the industry of more then 4,250 trucks has seen 12.4 percent growth in revenue in the last five years, which might seem odd considering the impressive growth in market competitors. From 2011 to 2013, the number of food trucks grew by 200 percent and while many big cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago have saturated markets, small and unexpected cities are also leading the charge of this industry. In Hanover, two food trucks provide Dartmouth students with a variety of options ranging from falafel to pad Thai – their lines sometimes stretch for over twenty yards.

Food trucks have grown in popularity largely because of social media. Twitter allows truck owners to communicate with followers and, in some cases, owners have thousands. Roy Choi is famous for selling two dollar Korean tacos outside of nightclubs in Los Angeles and frequently tweets to his 70,000-plus followers to announce where he plans to be each night. Twitter can even provide the truck owners with feedback – Jae Kim, owner of Chil’Lantro BBQ, a Korean and Mexican fusion food truck explained that, with Twitter, he is able to see “what we’re doing wrong and fix it.” Twitter acts as a medium through which owners have a voice to connect with their customers and customers can provide feedback to the owners.

The future of the industry is largely dependent on the U.S. economy. Much like the rest of the restaurant industry, the mobile catering market is dependent on personal consumption expenditures. We can distinctly trace this relationship from the upswing of the mobile catering industry as personal consumption expenditures marked a clear upward trend. The healthy economy over the past seven years has warranted a period of easy entry and revenue growth for the food truck industry, but many fear that with a downturn in the U.S. economy, the industry will suffer along with it.

For many of the owners, this risk combined with the increase in time and investment over the past few years has made the market lose its original luster. Jethro Naude, owner of Slapfish food truck in California, mentioned in April 2014 that because of these factors, “the excitement has faded away… [and] the good ol’ days of the food truck are gone.” On the other end of the spectrum, proponents of the industry argue that a down economy would encourage growth and revenue for food truck owners. With a decrease in personal consumption expenditure during a recession, demand for high-end catering for household parties and company events would decrease. As a result, individuals and household will likely turn to cheaper alternatives like food trucks, propping up the industry and providing hope to owners like Jethro Naude.

So what do we make of all of this? Prospective owners should watch the market closely and avoid entry for now. Because food truck owners have yet to truly endure the gauntlet of a down economy, any sort of projection would be unfounded. Regardless of the economy, however, it is likely that the market will continue to grow due to low levels of saturation in thousands of medium to small sized cities across the nation. While revenue might not stretch pass $2 billion and while the restaurant industry will continue to dwarf food truck industry, food truck owners around the world will continue to push forward – filling college-aged stomachs with sustenance and creativity.

Earth’s population is growing at a rate of almost 75 million people per year. This means that by around 2050, the world will have nine billion appetites to satisfy every day. One of the top concerns surrounding this highly populated future surrounds dietary protein sources and their environmental costs.

When we think of protein in the United States, the first thing that comes to mind is inevitably the holy trinity: beef, pork and chicken. Other popular protein sources include seafood, nuts and eggs. Worrying evidence, however, shows that the environmental costs of supporting hordes of livestock for rapidly increasing human consumption are too high for us to rely indefinitely on these protein sources. These impending risks have motivated scientists around the world to work on finding new sources of protein that are equally nutritious but gentler on the environment.

In searching for more sustainable protein sources, scientists have landed upon the idea of entomophagy: eating insects. Crickets, in particular, are the bug du jour, and entrepreneurs and scientists alike have begun to view them as exactly the sustainable, nutritious protein source we need.

Chapul cricket bar.
Chapul cricket bar.

The consumption of crickets is not novel. Humans have been eating insects for thousands of years and even today 80 percent of the world’s population regularly eats insects. Tortillas stuffed with grasshoppers are a delicacy in Mexico, Cambodian stir-fry commonly features red tree ants, and in Japan, one can find anything from fried cicada or silk moth pupae, to boiled wasp or aquatic insect larvae. Like Mexicans, Cambodians and Japanese consumers, Americans too eat bugs. In the United States, however, insect consumption is usually inadvertent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established laws about what percentage of our food can contain insects. For example, Hershey’s Bars are allowed to have 8 insect parts each while cinnamon sticks can be 5 percent insects by weight according to science writer Brooke Borel. As a result, it is estimated that the average American inadvertently eats 500 grams of insects per year.

Eating roughly 18 ounces of bugs in a year is not necessarily a bad thing. While eating the insects you come across in everyday life, like houseflies and spiders, is not recommended, farm-raised crickets are safe to eat and apparently quite nutritious. Because eating these crickets involves consuming the entire body, including bones and organs, a single bite out of a cricket bar contains all the essential amino acids that constitute a complete protein. Crickets are so protein-packed that they contain twice the protein of beef by volume, 15 percent more iron than spinach and as much vitamin B12 as salmon according to cricket bar company Chapul.

But even with so many nutritional benefits, crickets still evoke strong cognitive dissonance in Americans, especially those who cannot possibly imagine wanting to eat the same things they hire exterminators to eliminate. Upon finding a cricket in their food, most Americans’ would probably immediately file a lawsuit. To get past this psychological obstacle, companies grind up their winged herds into a powder called “cricket flour,” which is either sold in its original form or used as an ingredient in a processed foods like cookies, health bars and breads.

More than 30 startups launched in North America since 2012 specialize in cricket-based products and currently sell cookies, protein bars and even mixed drinks – most of which look no different from their insect-less counterparts. These products have even gained some traction as they have been modified to fit some of America’s more common dietary preferences, like organic, gluten-free and paleo.

Chocolate cardamom cookies.
Chocolate cardamom cookies.

In addition to being versatile and nutritionally sound, crickets are much more environmentally friendly than traditional American protein sources. Today, 92 percent of the world’s fresh water is consumed by agriculture according to Arjen Hoekstra and Mesfin Mekonnen’s global water use analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, while livestock takes up 70 percent of America’s agricultural land. Countless environmentalist groups have publicized the reality that the planet is barely sustaining its current livestock-induced environmental strains much less the expected needs of a magnified population. Crickets are an appealing answer to these problems of limited space and natural resources. They require only minimal water, feed and space, and they produce basically no methane according to cricket food manufacturer Exo. Also, while cattle take two to three years to mature and reach slaughter weight, crickets grow to adult size in seven weeks, making them a much more efficient source of protein for feeding larger populations. Crickets’ sustainability also puts them leaps and bounds ahead of other alternative protein sources like soy and whey protein because while those sources are less harmful to the planet than livestock raising, they still require substantial amounts of agricultural land and fresh water in order to be produced.

With an impeccable record for nutrition and sustainability, one may start to wonder why crickets aren’t already a widespread protein source in the United States? North America even has some industrial cricket infrastructure already in place, since crickets have been sold for decades as feed for pet fish and reptiles. But as of right now the Department of Agriculture does not inspect edible cricket farms, and the cricket food companies and the relevant government agencies have been cooperating to devise new standards of production and regulation as they progress. Besides the issue of Americans being unaccustomed to seeing bugs on their plates and on ingredient labels, much more research on the nutritional benefits, environmental impacts and possible health risks of edible insects is necessary in order to make crickets a popular food item.

In April 2015, a study from the University of California, Davis cast doubt upon cricket’s sustainability as compared to other forms of livestock. The study found that only crickets raised on high-quality feed grew to attain the nutritional value professed by past research, indicating that they might be more resource-intensive or less nutritionally-valuable than previously thought. This is only one study among a collection of academic literature on the subject of edible crickets, and the continued consumption of crickets and other insects throughout human history lends some support to the idea that they must have significant nutritional value. But the claims in the Davis study are worth exploring, and may be the necessary catalyst for more research, as well as for increased interaction between government, industry and academia.

Thai Peanut Crickets on Rice Balls.
Thai Peanut Crickets on Rice Balls.

Producers of edible crickets are going to need to prove the value of their product to consumers and regulatory government agencies alike if crickets are ever going to become a staple in American supermarkets. Popularizing crickets is going to require careful regulation at every stage of production and distribution, as well as innovative advertising to convince consumers to replace burgers with bugs. Crickets are being heralded as a “gateway bug,” but currently their prospects in the American market do not look promising. Cricket-based food companies’ marketing campaigns have not found enough success thus far to break into mainstream supermarkets. Until knowledge about the nutritional and environmental benefits of crickets as a protein source becomes widespread and supported by both academia and the government, cricket-based foods will most likely not be much more than a novelty item eaten on a dare.

Labeled second on TIME Magazine’s Top 10 food trends in 2012, the gluten-free movement has officially dominated the American food industry. The popularity of going gluten-free has spawned a lucrative market for new and established food manufacturers that benefit from the larger profit margins associated with a specialty food status. Oddly, though, consumers with celiac disease aren’t the only ones paying the premiums. Shoppers with perceived gluten-sensitivities and others who believe gluten-free diets provide health benefits are also purchasing the specially-labeled foods. While the movement has been profitable for manufacturers, its rise has been reinforcing the ideology of healthism with roots in neo-liberal policies to create markets where they didn’t previously exist by shifting health care responsibility to the individual, according to University of California Food Politics professor Julie Guthman.

Confusion surrounding gluten

True celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by various genetic predispositions that affect 1 percent of the world’s population. Those with celiac disease risk intestinal damage, cancer, osteoporosis, anemia and malnutrition when they ingest gliadin, the toxic component of gluten. People who consider themselves “gluten-sensitive” or believe they have wheat allergies, however, do not suffer from intestinal damage, though they may experience gastrointestinal problems, headaches, fatigue or allergy symptoms after consuming breads. About 6 percent of the world’s population is believed to suffer from this “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” according to New York Times writer Stephanie Strom.

A 2013 study conducted by the American Journal of Gastroenterology gave some insight into why some people without celiac disease experience discomfort after ingesting gluten. The study unearthed a different culprit behind the bloating and pain previously blamed on gluten by discovering that subjects put on diets with few Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols (FODMAPs) experienced fewer gastrointestinal symptoms than those placed on gluten-free diets.

In short, the problem is that many people believe themselves to be gluten-intolerant though they should actually avoid consuming FODMAPs. Confusion remains rampant, however, because many foods like breads and pastas contain both. By avoiding those foods, many wrongly assume that avoiding gluten is giving them relief. According to Jessica Biesiekierski’s 2013 article published in Gastroenterology, gluten-free diets are only necessary for people with actual celiac disease.

History of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease didn’t arise as a public health problem in the United States until 2003 as experts and doctors didn’t believe it was a problem. Even as late as 1999, a medical textbook estimated only 1 in 10,000 Americans had celiac disease. In 2003, Dr. Allesio Fasano, the director of the Center for Celiac Research, published a study that found one in 133 people had celiac disease. Until this study, gluten-free foods were nearly impossible to find and the existing options were barely palatable. Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times asserted that the rise in specialty food manufacturing grew parallel to increasing medical recognition of the disease and suggestion for patients to follow gluten-free diets.

Now, celiac disease is four times more common than it was 60 years ago. Despite its increased prevalence, consumers with celiac disease only account for a small percentage of gluten-free consumers. The Packaged Facts market research firm estimates this figure to be around seven percent. Before the American Journal of Gastroenterology conducted their 2013 study citing FODMAPs and not gluten as the cause of celiac-like symptoms, their 2011 research inaccurately promoted a substantial existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. By the time they published findings disproving earlier analyses, it was too late. The 2011 study had already fueled widespread inaccuracy and the explosion of the gluten-free market.

Health aspect of gluten-free diets

In 2011, USDA Agricultural Economist Stephen Martinez acknowledged that many perceive a gluten-free diet to be extremely healthy and helpful in weight management. In response to celebrity and sport athlete endorsements, Pamela Cureton, a dietitian at the Center for Celiac Research, warned that “there is no evidence that gluten is harmful in healthy people without a gluten-related disease…[or] that a gluten-free diet will increase sports performance.” Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel agreed stated that she found it “really interesting […] that consumers think gluten-free foods are healthier and can help them lose weight because there’s been no research affirming these beliefs” and that this false assumption “ is a major driver for the market, as interest expands across both gluten-sensitive and health-conscious consumers.” Director of Tufts’ HNRCA Energy Metabolism Laboratory Susan Roberts also cautioned against the assumption that gluten-free diets promote weight loss by citing any lost weight to an overall scarcity of gluten-free options.

Ever since the 2008 global food crisis put agriculture back in the spotlight, the international development community seems to have zeroed in on three key themes—smallholder farmers, higher investment in agriculture, and increasing productivity.

Hardly is this approach more evident than Pepsi Co.’s involvement in chickpea production in Ethiopia, a project focused on increasing chickpea yields and helping smallholders get access to markets.

“What’s exciting about this is that in order to manufacture the product, they will buy from smallholders,” said Ertharin Cousin, the U.S. ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture agencies in Rome.

“In those same places you have jobs being created that are off farm jobs that exist for unskilled labor that was previously unemployed. Those are the kinds of collective partnerships that smallholders benefit from and that the private sector helps drive.”

Yet if the Pepsi project is evidence of the increased attention to African agriculture, it also points to a fundamental problem: multinational corporations are able to legitimize their role in agricultural development by devoting their resources to boosting smallholders’ yields. But all this really does is perpetuate the myth that increasing yields will reduce hunger.

In fact, it is the large seed and agrochemical companies that benefit from the narrative that higher yields will solve world hunger—precisely because they can use that narrative to justify their highly technical approaches. These actors are able to gain acceptance by framing their initiatives as “development,” which inherently becomes associated with “goodwill” and “compassion.”

Yet despite the huge gains in productivity throughout the 20th century, there are nearly one billion hungry people in the world today—stark evidence that enhancing yields and ending hunger are not so closely correlated.

To me, this suggests the need for a fundamentally different vision for global agriculture. Most important, food systems must center on the multi-functionality of agriculture: nutrition objectives, rural livelihoods, climate change mitigation, and adaptation.

This vision was precisely emphasized by the International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) — considered the most comprehensive review of the current global agriculture situation. Altogether, IAASTD represents a stark rebuttal to the highly reductionist approaches that assume yields to be the sole factor in improving food security.

However, the U.S. government refused to endorse IAASTD, largely, I suspect, on the basis that the strategies embraced by IAASTD may pose a threat to U.S. economic interests—namely the large seed and agrochemical companies that the U.S. government believes should be beneficiaries of U.S. international development policies.

Thus the U.S. government’s failure to endorse IAASTD essentially says something more broadly about agricultural development: corporations’ agricultural approaches are incompatible with the equitable model of agriculture espoused by IAASTD.

The agricultural transformation needed today should be anchored by “food sovereignty”—the idea that local communities have control over their markets, their farming practices, and their nutritional adequacy. Locally-led agricultural innovations—relying on agro-ecology—should be at the forefront, rather than the technical approaches often propagated by multinationa corporations and the U.S. government. Beyond their inherent environmental sustainability, these local knowledge-based practices are more socially inclusive and pro-poor, in the sense that farmers aren’t dependent on external inputs. One recent effort to spotlight such small farmer-centered food systems can be seen in the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project, focused on sun-Saharan Africa.

“Part of my job with Nourishing the Planet has been to highlight the things that funders and donors don’t know about—the innovations that farmer organizations without fancy websites are doing to prevent soil erosion in Mali, the work being done by Prolinnova in Ethiopia to make sure water gets to crops, the market garden projects in Niger that have helped women boost their incomes from $300 per year to more than $1,500,” Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of the project, told me. “These innovations are overlooked and they have a lot of potential to be replicated and scaled up all over Africa and beyond into Asia, Latin America, and even the United States.”

The challenge now is to redirect agricultural investment away from merely increasing yields and toward the IAASTD report’s idea that agriculture has a wide array of objectives.

“One of the biggest things I learned is that agriculture and farmers are often blamed for things [such as] deforestation and climate change,” Nierenberg said. “I think we’re seeing this shift that agriculture is emerging as a solution to the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.”

The shift toward more pro-poor agriculture requires a fundamental rethinking of the neoliberal free market agenda that for decades has dominated the global food system. The result is that food systems are in some cases tailored more toward commodity production than toward guaranteeing food as a human right (this explains why some communities in Africa may export cocoa when they themselves are food insecure). Free market advocates assume that income generation will enable Africans to purchase food produced anywhere, and largely neglect the importance of food self-sufficiency. The fallacy inherent in this ideology came into sharp relief when the 2008 food price spike triggered riots in over 30 countries.

Indeed, the overemphasis on free market agriculture was embedded in European powers’ colonial structures in Africa, according to Macalester College geography professor Bill Moseley.

“The colonial powers in a sense changed local economies from ones largely based on subsistence or engaged in local regional trade, to ones that move away from subsistence production and start producing crops useful to the core powers,” Moseley said. “Related to this was the notion that colonies should be not a burden on imperial powers but be generating enough revenue to be self-sustaining. There was a big push for them to be more export-oriented.”

It appears that African countries’ subordination to Western powers, however, didn’t necessarily come to an end despite the dawn of independence. In response to the debt crisis plaguing many African countries in the 1980s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund implemented structural adjustment programs, forcing African governments to slash their investments in the agriculture sector. “In theory governments had a choice, but if you wanted any access to international credit you had to adhere to this set of reforms—cutting back on government civil service, cuts to social services, and freer trade,” Moseley said.

The pitfalls of the structural adjustment programs have been acknowledged even by the World Bank itself. But at the same time, the ability for corporations such as Pepsi to legitimize their role in agricultural development suggests that the free market agenda underlying structural adjustment is still very much prevalent today.

That’s why we have to embrace a type of agriculture that suits the needs of the world’s poorest. This movement is going to have be bottom-up, led by African smallholder farmers who push their governments to make food a human right.

In August 2011 FarmPlate.com launched in Hanover, NH with the goal of creating an online sustainable foods community. Founder Kim Werner tells the Dartmouth Business Journal about the challenges and successes of starting a business to connect small town farmers, big city foodies, and everyone in between, across the US.  

Dartmouth Business Journal (DBJ): First, could you briefly explain what FarmPlate does?

Kim Werner (KW): FarmPlate.com is an online community and resource targeting consumers, businesses and organizations who want to find and support sustainable foods businesses. Our mission, ultimately, is to spur the growth of the sustainable foods marketplace by making it fun and easy for consumers to find and enjoy real foods. We launched on August 31, 2011, with the most comprehensive database of real food enterprises nationwide. We have more than 30,000 listings of farmers, fishermen, food artisans, restaurants, markets and organizations from Maine to Pennsylvania as well as California, the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. There are two primary components of the first release of the website: 1) Find real food producers as well as restaurants and markets that source sustainably— for example local cheesemakers and breweries, a sustainable fisherman who can ship line-caught products to your door, a restaurant that is committed to serving only foods with traceable sources, CSA options near you, a market where you can buy your favorite baker’s bread, and much more. 2) Explore a business’s food web to see where to buy and eat a particular producer’s products, and to see where a restaurant or market sources from.

DBJ: Why did you decide to found FarmPlate?

KM: Food has been more than a necessity throughout my life. My family traveled extensively when I was young, and our trips inevitably were focused around the foods of the cultures we were immersed in. From this, I developed a lifelong love of cooking, and in my previous professional incarnation was a cookbook editor. (I “retired” on the Joy of Cooking in the late ’90s.) When our first daughter was born, I wanted more than ever to have easy access to wholesome food fresh from the source. I spent hours googling nearby farmers’ markets, farms where we could purchase a side of beef and winter CSAs. What I found were pieces of the larger puzzle I was trying to put together. From this I decided to find a way to bring together all of this information into a single source and use technology to build a powerful and efficient community platform for sustainable foods.

DBJ: What have the biggest obstacles been in starting a sustainable foods business?

KM: There are many obstacles to starting a business in general! And if I had to choose a “space” to be in, it would be the sustainable/green business sector because one of the end-goals is to have a positive impact on society. But I would say perhaps the biggest potential obstacle, and one that can halt a start-up in its tracks, is that there is an absolute requirement to be able to do more than anyone thinks is possible with fewer human capital and financial resources than imaginable. It also requires that you are 100% prepared to give up your life as you know it. I love challenges so I have been fueled by this over the years, but it is certainly just that, challenging!

DBJ: How do you think the environment for a green business, or a sustainable food business in particular, has changed since the idea for FarmPlate was first conceived?

KW: It has vastly improved. It is an underestimate to say green businesses are a trending topic, as this is a sector that is here for the long-run. Sustainable food businesses in particular are positioned to thrive, thanks in part to the press as well as the growing environmental movement, which is spurred by a real and immediate need to re-examine how we are co-existing within our world today.

DBJ: Why did you decide to base FarmPlate in Hanover?

KM: Purely a lifestyle decision. We have deep roots in Vermont, but selected Hanover as a great place to raise a family and be surrounded by great arts, great educational opportunities and the great outdoors!

DBJ: You mentioned that FarmPlate features over 30,000 businesses    – how have you found most of the businesses listed on your site? What kind of standards must businesses meet in order to be listed in FarmPlates’s database?

KW: We have a wonderful crew across the country that screens and loads businesses into the FarmPlate database. They find the businesses by researching both online and in the field, and we collect the information from original sources, whether it’s a business’s database, Facebook page or the result of an in-person visit. We have a handbook detailing suggested criteria a business should meet in order to be listed on FarmPlate. Criteria ranges from “sources locally” to “sells direct to the consumer” to “farms the land in a sustainable manner” and so on. We err on the side of inclusion, however, as we want to help businesses expand their commitment to sustainable products, and not screen them out because they are not doing enough along these lines to warrant a listing. We’re here to help!

DBJ: How popular has the profile upgrade option been? (In which business owners pay $195/year to manage their own FarmPlate profile.) How viable is the profile upgrade option for small businesses?

KW: We have had a tremendously positive response to the upgrade option. We are offering a cost-effective way for businesses to build a website if they do not currently have a web presence (less than $4/week), and for the many businesses that do, FarmPlate is an easy, effective way to reinforce their online presence and current marketing efforts, as well as to reach a highly targeted customer base.

DBJ: How have people responded so far to what FarmPlate is doing?

KW: Frankly, we have not actively promoted our launch yet. ,We are focusing now on the great feedback we are getting from our early adopters, but we are thrilled by the organic search traffic we have begun to generate. We also have been very excited about the number of listing suggestions submitted by both businesses and consumers who want to be sure their favorite businesses are listed on FarmPlate. We look forward to 2012 when we will be more actively promoting the website.

DBJ: How do you compete with other sites offering reviews for local restaurants or sustainable food sources?

KW: Our community is highly targeted, and we see it as a destination site for foodies and sustainable food businesses trying to connect with like-minded consumers and businesses.

DBJ: What do you see as the next steps for FarmPlate?

KW: We are going to continue to build our database aggressively to deliver on our promise of a comprehensive nationwide resource. We will also be integrating more communication and social tools to further develop the community features. And we are looking forward to learning more from our audience so we can continue to grow the website according to the needs and wants of the very community we are here to serve.