PLOVGH

Plovgh is a cooperative of farmers, growers, and ranchers that sell directly to their customers.

We’re psyched to be part of a growing group of companies who are rethinking traditional systems and developing better ways of doing business. It’s encouraging to see the response we’ve gotten from people all over the country who are ready for change and want to participate. Dwolla is shifting perceptions of how money can be exchanged and we plan to do the same for how food moves directly from the hands of producers to people.

Reblogged from Dwolla:

Plovgh: Revolutionizing Agriculture

This post is part of our series, Favorite Stories. Think of it as a collection of entrepreneurs, products, and ideas that are inspiring Dwolla everyday. Want more? Find this story and others on Dwolla’s Pinterest board. Enjoy!

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When we pay for food from the grocery store, many of us may think that we are paying the farmer for their wares. However, only about $0.16 from every dollar spent on a food product reaches the farmer. The other $0.84 goes to the diesel in the truck that is transporting the food, the cost of storing until sold, the people who sell it to grocers, the chef that prepares your meal, the satellites and databases that track shipments, the workers and forklifts in the warehouses.

Plovgh is a marketplace and distribution network for independent farmers, fishers, and food artisans that improves producers’ profitability by providing customers with a connection to directly sourced goods. They have a long-term vision of transforming agriculture in a way that gives the power back to the growers, and cuts away at the costs imposed by the middlemen – the wholesalers, distributors and retailers. They do this by connecting you with producers near you.

I was lucky enough to be able to pose a few questions to the founder,Elizabeth Greene, about what inspired her along her journey to start Plovgh, and how she got the business up and running.

What inspired you to start Plovgh? 

I grew up around people who live and breathe agriculture. My granddad ran Cargill when I was a kid and our family is also in the cattle business, so corn prices, weather, and exchange rates were dinner table conversation. After spending two summers in India working on initiatives to incorporate very small cotton growers into international supply chains, I realized how inefficient (and, in many cases, corrupt) the entities are that have traditionally mediated the relationship between producers and their customers. I was studying at MIT at the time, so I was surrounded by technologists and strategists who were thinking really creatively about how technology could shift whole sectors of the economy. That no one else was attempting a major revision of the agricultural sector seemed to me a huge opportunity both because of the global need for better outcomes for farmers and people, but also because of the magnitude of the challenge of reinventing a system that everyone relies on.

How did you get started with your business?

Plovgh is organized around routes that connect farms with their customers – it’s like a roving warehouse which means that we can significantly reduce the time from harvest to consumption, which not even Whole Foods can do. We found out pretty quickly that distribution is a major factor for independent farms, and that without a logistics component no online tool will successfully market food and agricultural products because timing is so sensitive for many products. Right now we’re initiating routes both with our own network of farms, but also through relationships with organizations like Slow Food NYC, which has done great work identifying and supporting farms that produce high-quality products and manage their farms conscientiously. We’re always looking for more farms to join the network though!

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Can you share one of your favorite stories or experiences?

Last summer, one of my favorite farms offered mixed greens by the pound. The farm announced the harvest, customers ordered on Plovgh, and the farmers harvested the greens at 6 am the day of the delivery. Needless to say, the greens were phenomenal. Out of curiosity, I checked what organic mixed greens were going for at an online grocer, and what I found made me very happy: the prices from the farm on Plovgh were 20% lower than the prices for mass-produced, over-packaged, harvested-a-week-ago greens sitting in a warehouse.

Through Plovgh, the farm made far more than it would have selling to a store that would have marked up the product (farms typically get $0.19 on the retail dollar when they sell wholesale). Meanwhile, Plovgh customers paid less for a higher quality product. That shift in how value is distributed among the most essential participants in a food economy is at the core of this company, and it was inspiring to see the transformation in action.

Where do you look to find inspiration in your job?

I take great inspiration from my peers who are forging conscientious commerce. Luckily, my founding team fits that description! Our brainstorm sessions can get intense but we are dead set on making farmers’ jobs easier and getting higher quality food into communities around the globe, so there’s a lot of material to work with. The best part of a brainstorm is to then take the ideas out into the world and talk with producers and customers about how Plovgh can serve them best. The exchange of ideas keeps me going day in and day out.

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What is one important lesson you’ve learned from your journey into building your own business? 

Perhaps the most lasting lesson I’ve learned is the need to balance a very big picture (I dream of the day when Plovgh provides access to capital, crop insurance, and production planning tools to farmers around the world) while implementing methodically. I’m a futurist who is trying very hard to live and work in the present. Holding a view of what Plovgh could be with what Plovgh is today, and where it needs to get tomorrow in order to deliver that long-range vision, is the hardest part of my job, and a skill I’m still honing.

How do you use Dwolla in your business? 

Plovgh supports people, groups, companies, and movements that take bold steps toward making commerce more meaningful. We are very excited to take Dwolla payments on Plovgh because our companies are very well aligned – both take out inefficient intermediaries. Now when you place an order on Plovgh you see two prices – the standard price and the Dwolla price that benefits both customer and producer. Both companies also focus on activating a network of local buyers and sellers so Plovgh was pleased to join up.

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08 02/13

New Agriculture Needs Out From Under the Corporate Thumb

Last week, Walmart announced a $1 million grant for Growing Power, a Milwaukee- and Chicago-based organization started by Will Allen that focuses on equal access to healthy food for all communities. The Good Food Revolution was aflutter with reactions. Should Growing Power accept Walmart’s support? Can big corporations really be part of the transformation in farming and food or are they merely participating to rack up do-gooder points? In a reaction to Will Allen’s Facebook message explaining the decision to take the funding, Zac Henson declared, “The revolution will not be grant-funded.” Henson’s perspective raises a crucial and unresolved question: Can New Agriculture succeed without the financial and operational support of the corporate network it aims to subvert? The problem with Growing Power accepting Walmart funding or pursuing the PepsiCo grant they’re after is not whether powerful corporate interests and dollars ought to be part of shifting the food system. They should. The agriculture movement is not exclusive – it has emerged from concerns shared by citizens, nonprofits, governments, and multinationals alike. The deeper problem the funding decision exposes is that if New Agriculture relies on money and support from Industrial Agriculture (and I call it that very intentionally – I am talking here, as I have before, about those corporations that apply traditional notions of efficiency, economies of scale, and operational rigidity to an agricultural system that performs anything but linearly and predictably), then the paradigm of agricultural production and food consumption does not change. Instead, the predominant market system prevails and organizations like Growing Power that fuel the new model in fact exist within the dominant system as a subject of corporate efforts to participate in the cutting edge. We need a more profound shift than that to sustain the agricultural resurgence we’re witnessing. In New Agriculture, decisions and information do not need to be centralized in the hands of a few powerful companies. Rather, a diverse base of producers and consumers is beginning to coordinate the production, marketing, purchase, and consumption of wholesome food with alternative markets, new tools, and inclusive approaches. It looks like Windowfarms providing farming kits to citizen growers. It looks like Plovgh giving farms a way to earn more for their crops by reaching their customers en masse. It looks like hundreds of thousands of farms in this country reclaiming their economic fate by putting their land into food crops instead of commodities and selling that food directly to the people who eat it. Growing Power is part of the reason New Agriculture finally feels accessible, but their decision to take support from a corporate giant places them squarely within the corporate framework. Negative reactions to the organization’s decisions express the disappointment that a leader on the alternative path just nestled itself into the hierarchy it aims to change. Its values and mission just became a line item within Walmart’s annual report (or, worse, its Corporate Social Responsibility report) instead of a call for an entirely different way. It reminds us that we’re stuck. To have the lasting impact that the world needs, New Agriculture needs to stand on its own. To do so it has to be profitable. New Agriculture does not need a re-funneling of corporate money, money that because of the dominant structure it perpetuates won’t give us the market changes that will keep farmers on the land, improve the quality of our soil, and yield healthful food crops and relationships across our agri-culture. We need new business models that are built for New Agriculture, that reward the producer and the consumer, that value decisions that are optimal economically as well as environmentally and ethically, that give influence back to the people who grow the food and the people who eat it. Only when the companies that are clearing a truly alternative agricultural path are prepared to upend and eventually replace the old paradigm of the agricultural sector with connectivity, community, and environmental stewardship will we have a chance of sustaining the revitalization of our farms and food.

14 09/11