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.

 

 

In Hanover, New Hampshire, less than twenty minutes into ticket sales of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the final installment in the Harry Potter series, all patrons interested in the midnight showing were coughing up the extra $3.50 a head for 3-D tickets. Is this a clear indication that the future of American cinema rests on 3-D technology? No. In fact, this particular incident resulted from a deficit of 2-D tickets. Interestingly, this old-school preference for the traditional flat-screen viewing experience is not limited to small town New England. Early returns indicate 2-D movies like Fast Five, The Hangover Part II, and Bridesmaids lead the summer 2011 box office, with The Hangover outdoing the 3-D fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series as the highest grossing movie of the year. Has 3-D technology truly captivated the American public to the extent that 3-D film earnings can cover the technology’s increased cost to production companies?

Three-dimensional films are not exactly an innovative product of the twenty-first century. In fact, according to Time Magazine, studios released the first 3-D, or stereoscopic films prior to the Great Depression, and the 3-D fad has recurred in waves over the past century. Historically, these stereoscopic pictures topped the box-office; the 1950s “Golden Era” of 3-D brought House of Wax, which banked an estimated $658,000 in theaters, the 1980s’ Parasite horrified viewers into coughing up $7,000,000, and the current, eighth revival of the technology wowed the American public with Avatar, which famously grossed more than $760 million in the United States alone. However, Avatar and other more recent twenty- first century 3-D films differ from their predecessors in that they are filmed in digital 3-D, while previously filmmakers made their films three-dimensional in postproduction by filming each scene simultaneously with two cameras. The film rolls from each camera would be lined up in such a way that viewers donning the traditional cardboard glasses with blue and red lenses would see projected before them a three dimensional image. However, for many viewers, the innovative effects did not outweigh the accompanying headaches and nausea. Today, thanks to RealD’s perfection of digital 3-D, which eliminates the need for color-coded glasses, viewers may enjoy 3-D films with fewer side effects in the greater comfort of plastic glasses resembling those that might be purchased as flair in a fashion accessories store.

3-D technology has added a new layer to the movie-viewing experience that allows viewers to not only see and hear a movie, but also to feel as if they could reach out and touch it. Fascination with this sensory phenomenon helped Avatar to become the highest grossing movie of all time – the movie drew 71% of its profit from 3-D ticket sales, spurring a flurry of 3-D movie production which has increased, and is expected to continue increasing, exponentially from 2009. However, while some personally prefer the traditional two- dimensional manner of viewing a movie, the high price of a 3-D ticket dissuades others. For example, at the LA AMC Century City 15, the cost of a 3-D film to a family of four is $64, as opposed to $48 to see a regular 2- D movie. Companies involved in the production of 3-D films feel the reverberations of these high prices: In the first two weeks of June 2011 after Kung Fu Panda 2 made only 45% of its $60.9 million opening and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides earned only 46% of its $90.2 million opening in 3-D tickets, RealD shares dropped 26%. Meanwhile, in response to Kung Fu Panda’s disappointing 3-D revenue, DreamWorks shares dropped 16%. Stock analyst Richard Greenfield explains the trend: “I think people are tired of showing up and having to wear glasses — at high prices — every single week . . . [The prices] are insulting to the customer.” Beyond industry giants, producers feel the sting when revenue from 3-D tickets is proportionally low in that 3-D technology adds up to 30% to the budget for a live-action film and 20% for an animated film, while movie theaters are adversely affected in that they devoted copious funds to converting from analog film reels to digital data feeds to support the 3-D trend.

So why are esteemed directors like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Peter Jackson joining the 3-D forces to contribute to the 116 3-D movies hitting theaters from 2011 to 2013? In Jackson’s own words, “I believe that almost any movie benefits from 3-D. As a filmmaker, I want you to suspend disbelief and get lost in the film – participate in the film rather than just observe it. On that level, 3- D can only help.” Additionally, where 3-D technology may fail to garner U.S. audiences, it captivates foreign viewers. Notably, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides experienced the largest foreign debut ever, with 66% of its earnings hailing from 3-D ticket sales. Even Kung Fu Panda 2 fared well abroad, where hunger for 3-D films granted Panda the largest non-Chinese opening in China’s
entertainment history. Considering foreign sales, on average, account for two thirds of the global box office, production companies weigh the foreign response highly in their decision to continue producing 3-D films.

While the current lull in popularity of 3-D movies with the American public may prove to be a temporary glitch, others are convinced it is a long-term, downward slope. 3-D historian Daniel Symmes concludes, “3-D has always been the circus coming to town. Does the circus stay around? No. If it does, attendance drops off, the novelty is gone, and the circus goes away.” Whether 3-D films are, as Symmes suggests, a temporary fad which comes and goes or here to stay, perhaps we should prepare for the next sensory trend to hit theaters: 4-D scented films.