PLOVGH

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

Connectivity

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One reason we are building Plovgh is to re-connect people with the source of their food. Drawing on the relationships that once linked producers and consumers, we are leveraging technology to shift the current agricultural transaction and change how the supply chain operates.

The soil food web outlined above with the help of Dr. Elaine Ingham and the folks behind the Lexicon of Sustainability is a natural example of sustainable connectivity. It shows how ecosystems work to maintain balance and manage the interconnectedness of organisms that provide healthy soil necessary for growing food. It’s interesting to think of Plovgh in this perspective, coordinating all of the people that make up a supply chain to develop a more efficient and reliable way through which they can engage with one another. It is an alternative take on an outdated system, and one that aims to foster an approach that is more healthy and sustainable.

04 03/13

Currently Seeking: Social Media Intern

At Plovgh we’re rethinking commerce. We’re building a platform for a community of people to produce, trade, and move crops from farms directly to individuals. As we grow and prepare for the next stage of Plovgh, we’re searching for people to help support the team in areas of social media, marketing and producer recruitment.

Intern responsibilities will include but are not limited to: Assisting in the execution of social media strategy across multiple platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.); Supporting recruitment of potential producers to sell on Plovgh, including some data entry; Compiling articles, links, podcasts and other sources for a daily news digest; Conducting research on food and agricultural policy, neighborhood/census data, etc.; General administrative support; Conceiving and assisting with content creation

Qualifications

  * Access to a personal computer

  * Detail oriented with excellent communication skills

  * Writing experience (blog or other published content)

  * Experience with content management and editing, particularly in Tumblr

  * Familiarity with a variety of social networks

  * Experience with Google Apps, Dropbox and MailChimp

  * Marketing or graphic design experience is a plus

  * Interest in agriculture, food, technology, new economy

This position is based out of our Brooklyn office, and requires at least two full time days per week, preferably on site. Start and end dates are flexible. The position is unpaid but we can offer a travel stipend, start up experience and coffees courtesy of Plovgh.

To apply, please email your resume, a short paragraph of what you would be looking for  in this internship, and a recent writing sample to mallory@plovgh.com. Or if you know someone who might be interested, pass the word on!
25 10/12

A Snapshot of SXSW Eco Sessions to Check Out

Next week Plovgh is headed to Austin for SXSW Eco. The conference, now in it’s second year, was started to help move the many conversations surrounding sustainability toward progressive solutions. We’ll be there to participate in the Startup Showcase, but there are plenty of panels and discussions that we are psyched to see. The following is just an overview of some of the talks we plan to check out. For a full list of speakers and events you can view the schedule here.

Mix Parts, Stir Well: Tech Soup for Food Economies 

This panel covers how software developers are aiding local food systems and how these new tech tools are fueling rural-urban economics and better regional food economies.

Life in the Street: Reclaiming Public Space

Companies are finding that there is excess capacity in cities and communities that can be repurposed for the greater good. This talk shares how pop up street improvement projects are helping to motivate change throughout cities.

The Sharing Economy for Sustainable Development

“Straight to the Point” is a series of 15 minute sessions given by thought leaders in different fields from around the world. “The Sharing Economy” is one such session given by Jennifer Schmitt that discusses “collaborative consumption” and how it can change the way traditional systems operate.

Good Food: Turning Popularity into Power

Don Carr, Erin FlynnTom Philpott, and Jason Mark answer the question of how sustainable food choices can shift to become the norm rather than the exception despite barriers in the existing market.

Creating Significant Change at the System Level

“Most sustainability challenges are rooted in systemic problems and need to be solved by a new form of approach: system innovation.” This panel will discuss the theory and practice of creating change at a system level.

Plenty for the Planet: Sustainable Food and a Well-Fed World

Anna Lappé will cover the divisive argument over whether sustainable or industrial agriculture is the answer to world food security. Along with the screening of her new video, Anna will “explore the role of sustainable food systems, share emergent global innovations and expose food industry flacks.”

Sustainability Gets Social

I’m personally looking forward to checking out this panel on how social media trends can influence sustainable systems. The dialogue will touch on data insights, content development, brand management and more.

Building Value in the Age of Less

How will collaboration and community shift the standards of a “successful” business? The topic of “collaborative consumption” is revisited and pondered by a group of entrepreneurs including Casey CaploweMicki Krimmel, and Elizabeth Stewart.

Measure it, Improve it: Data for Better Cities

We get excited about data at Plovgh. This panel will examine different scenarios of “how data is being collected, analyzed and visualized for planning and designing sustainable cities.” Panelists will also identify the ways crowd sourcing and mobile phone sensors are being leveraged in areas where data does not yet exist.

Farming the Future

We’re looking forward to hear from some of our peers and agricultural leaders on this panel as they discuss the emerging new generation of farmers and what can be done to help make direct from producer economies more viable.

28 09/12

Ag data visualizations circa 1870

To say that the Plovgh team likes to geek out over data is probably an understatement. Given that, we wanted to share this new project from our friends at Brooklyn Brainery. They collected and compiled old data visualizations and documents from 19th century census data and created an online resource of everything from agriculture to insanity and made it easy for everyone to explore. 

Below are some of the agricultural based documents that give insight into data on crop production, land use, rainfall, wages and more in America from 1870 and 1890.

Average size of farms: 1890

Production of buckwheat, barley and cotton, 1890

Value of farm products per acre, 1890


bkbrains:

We’re excited to present a new project: A Handsome Atlas

Check it out for some lovely, modern and awesome data visualizations based on 19th Century census data.

What’s the story? After the Civil War, the US doubled down on the Census, cranking out stunning maps, charts, and graphs.

About what? Literally everything. Liquor, lumber, Methodists, malaria, insanity, Irishmen: everything!

13 09/12

The future of agriculture is not conventional

This organic nonsense has to stop.  I’d like to politely request that those who don’t know agriculture cease writing about it as though they do, stoking an already divisive debate that misses the heart of the problem we face: We’re not sure how we should be growing food, and thus we’re not sure how to eat.

Anyone who suggests that a crop can be raised without the provision of nutrients and pest management should not opine on agriculture.  Roger Cohen, I’m talking to you.

Saturday’s opinion piece, shows me just how far off course the discussion of agricultural production has gotten because it spreads misinformation and focuses squarely on the wrong problem.  If we continue to debate organic versus conventional, continue to view food choices as an emblem of class, and continue to use the nine billion future people of the world as a gauntlet that the human race must run, we are in trouble because the question is not first about production.  It’s about distribution.

We produce enough to feed 1.3 billion more people than we actually do.  And that’s in American proportions.  In 2000, the USDA reported that Americans consumed almost 2,000 pounds of food per person per year.  Meanwhile, 1.3 billion tons of global food production goes to waste each year.  Production by any method, standard, or label is not our most pressing problem.

Getting production where it is needed and wanted is another story.  We’ve got a billion or so people on this planet consuming too much of the wrong kinds of calories and another approximate billion getting too few of the right nutrients.  Most food production happens far from population centers, and timing is everything whether you’re moving kale to market or wheat to a mill, so properly matching supply with demand is tricky.  Here we are in 2012, endowed with information and technology that together can make just about any transaction instantaneous.  Yet we rely on supply chains that emerged in the 19th century to connect us with our food.

The diversity that agricultural products present complicates matters too.  Because of weather, seed variety, origin, soil conditions, and a host of other factors, not every tomato tastes the same and sweet corn from my home state of Minnesota is like corn from nowhere else.  I value that distinction in my food.

On the whole, our economy does not.

We produce and consume food within a structure that was built for undifferentiated, commodity products.  The processes that move vast amounts of crops from harvest, to processing, to wholesale, to retail, to you keep the producer and the consumer conveniently separated – by about $0.84 for every dollar you spend.  The anonymous middle of merchants, distributors, sellers, and superstores has driven consumers to rely on certifications like organic to tell them more about the products they’re buying than anyone else will.  Producers, in turn, seek that certification as a way to distinguish their products in the marketplace. 

Because so far they are all we’ve had to rely on to see something, anything, through the haze of the modern food system, labels have an inflated value.  But don’t let that fool you into thinking that only spoiled rich folks, as Cohen would have it, feel strongly about the short- and long-term effects their food has on themselves, their families, and their environments. 

Look at Growing Power, where Will Allen has built an urban farming empire-of-everyman.  Look at the Bed-Stuy CSA of Brooklyn, where middle income families subsidize shares so their lower income neighbors can participate in getting food directly from farms.  Look at the verdant farmers market culture in northern Iowa.  Look at the efforts of farmers in Tchula, Mississippi, to grow food – not corn, not soy, not cotton – to feed their county first, and everyone else they can thereafter.

If anything, the debate surrounding how we produce and move food should unite us.  Articles like Cohen’s are a soap box, and soak up our energy with debate when they should instead focus on shared principles: sufficient food to feed our people, production technology and innovation (from nutrient-rich composting techniques and drip irrigation, to GPS systems in John Deere tractors) that facilitate efficient and sufficient food production, soil and water systems that promise years and years of sustained agricultural production, and access for every single person to the abundance that we now know, but that our great-grandparents did not.

The science should focus on how we get there.  I’d like to see, for example, a comparison of per-acre nutrient yields and revenue for six different production systems: conventional and certified organic commodity, conventional and certified organic fruit and vegetable under mass production, conventional but diversified fruit and vegetable production, and fruit and vegetable production under what we might call “beyond organic”, “practical”, “sustainable”, or whatever term most effectively conveys the rational approach of a growing number of farmers to use the best means they have to produce a crop that is healthy, high-yielding, and good to eat.  Personal experience suggests that the last of these, which takes place right now on small- and mid-sized enterprises, is our greatest hope.

The future may not be organic but it is also not conventional.  We should set aside the debate about organics and start identifying at a large scale an alternative path for the production, distribution, purchase, and consumption of the food that we all rely on for sustenance.

10 09/12

A Problematic View of ‘Organic’

The announcement of a new Stanford study on the health benefits of food produced according to organic standards provides little in the way of concrete direction and instead risks distracting consumers from a critical perspective: the source of your food still matters. 

The study appears to be as hyped up as the term it examines.  Its conclusion is simply that organic foods have not been proven to be better for human health than conventionally produced foods.  It reinforces that organic certification is not the pivotal factor in determining how healthy your food is, but does not attempt to identify what is. 

Almost simultaneously, the New York Times published this critique of the use of antibiotics in livestock, stating that with respect to the prevalence of an antibiotic-resistant germ, “The numbers released quietly by the federal government this year were alarming.”  Alarming but inconclusive means that the onus is on you to make the best decision for you and those you feed.   

A great deal more than the presence or absence of an organic label determines the nutritional and environmental value of the food you buy.  Instead of studying yourself in a circle, consider asking these three questions of your food.

Was it produced on a farm that grows a diverse selection of crops?  Certified organic production does not necessarily mean diversified production, and monocropping is widely viewed as a problem.  One indication of the environmental value of the food you purchase is whether it comes from producers that grow more than just a few crops, a practice that suggests the farmers are managing their soil nutrients, pests, and production schedules strategically and responsibly.

Was it grown in a way that relies primarily on the farm’s own ecosystem?  The best farmers are managers not just of production but also of decomposition.  While certified organic production eliminates some of the worst synthetic chemicals from crop production, it still allows for and relies on chemical compounds produced off the farm.  Meanwhile, many independent farmers manage their inputs (and thus their costs) by cycling energy and nutrients through the whole farm system by composting, using integrated pest and nutrient management techniques, and incorporating livestock.

Was its time to market short enough that it will taste good?  An organic certification does not ensure that your food was ripe and ready when it was harvested, and there is at least some modicum of agreement that crops that are harvested when ripe have higher nutrient content than those that are harvested prematurely in order to survive the journey to you (I especially like Dan Barber’s comments at 17:25 of this podcast).  An independent producer generally markets goods geographically and relationally closer than wholesale supply chains do, and his crops are usually hours from harvest, not days or weeks as store-bought produce is. 

The message here: Mass production, not the presence or absence of an organic label, is the problem. From an agricultural and economic perspective, you’re better off when you purchase your food directly from the producer because it’s likely to be more freshly harvested, richer in nutrients, lower in residues, and higher in overall environmental value than what you find on store shelves. 

Right now to do business with farmers you’re limited to the farmers market or a CSA.  While better ways to match you with the growers and crops you value are emerging, for now keep it simple, seek outlets that get you in direct contact with producers.

06 09/12

Is Plovgh Russian for…

We’ve heard a lot of interpretive pronunciations of Plovgh in recent months: “plov-gah”, “ploe”, “plahv”.  Our favorite questions so far have been: Does the “L-O-V” stand for “love”?  And, is Plovgh Russian for…(we’re not sure what)? 

Nope, none of the above.  In fact, the spelling was originally a function of the great URL conundrum that many startups face (see Svpply and Svbtle for prime examples).  But the concept behind the name is a bit more meaningful than that.

Plovgh, which is pronounced “plow”, refers to a tool, an innovation that fueled a technological revolution in farming in the ancient world.  We aim to apply technology in a way that has an equally transformative effect for the current and future generation of farmers, not on their production but on the economics of their markets.  By eliminating the middleman, Plovgh producers and customers can both do better. 

For the non-agrarians among you, the plough is an agricultural tool that is thought to have emerged in the 6th millennium B.C. when people began using draft animal power. It was not until 1837 that the first steel plough was introduced by a blacksmith and manufacturer named John Deere. Its arrow-shaped head is used to this day to cultivate the soil in preparation for sowing seeds or planting.  Thus, the “v” in our name reflects the shape of the tool itself and calls on a rich history of humans working the land and forging new ground.

Last but not least, the plough had an impact on agriculture around the world, over the course of millennia.  That it is also a constellation and a yoga pose speaks to its universality, cultural significance, and enduring quality.  Our hope is that Plovgh too reaches hundreds of millions of farmers globally and has wide-reaching effect in reinventing markets for producers and people.

So, for historical, technical, and pragmatic reasons, we are Plovgh. 

04 09/12

Harvest. Prepare. Distribute.

Thanks to the folks at Wassaic Community Farm for having us over this weekend!

13 08/12
#Beyondorganic 
Taken at at Wassaic Community Farm

#Beyondorganic 

Taken at at Wassaic Community Farm

(Source: plovghyourfood)

13 08/12

Web, Java and GWT developer internship!

We’re looking for a Java developer that would like the opportunity to help build a state of the art web platform that will empower farmers and revolutionize how people get their food.

Candidates must write clean code, real documentation, and functional unit tests.  

Please have:

* Java experience!
* writing SQL and developing database driven applications (postgresql in particular)
* experience with web technologies such as Javascript, HTML5, and CSS3
* knowledge of and some experience with GWT (Google Web Toolkit)

You’ll be working with the whole team on product development, and directly with the tech director developing the software and shaping the work environment as our team grows.

This position is in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, and requires at least 2 full time days per week, preferably on site.

Any perks? Summer in Brooklyn, assistance finding housing (if needed), startup experience, Roberta’s pizza lunches, and given your performance, the potential for paid employment upon next round of financing.  

To apply, please email your resume, a short paragraph of what you would be looking for in this position, and - if you have one - your public GitHub profile to blue@plovgh.com.

11 04/12