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Innovation never tasted so good: CitySprout launches in Austin, leads the farm-to-web trend

Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_citysprout_dec 2012_1
CitySprout helps bring together communities in your area to attract offers of fresh, local food by combining your collective buying power. Courtesy of CitySprout
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_citysprout_dec 2012_2
How it works. Courtesy of CitySprout
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_citysprout_dec 2012_1
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_citysprout_dec 2012_2

Catering to the noncommittal yet forward-thinking generation of today, CitySprout launches in Austin, a program in which members create online communities that band together to attract offers of fresh food from local farms by combining members' collective buying power.

Say a local farm has dozens of fresh eggs. The farmer will post their availability on a CitySprout community page, like Bouldin Creek, and users will respond with their orders. If enough people place an order, the farmer drops off the eggs.  

Users get to pick and choose farm-fresh produce without having to commit to an uber expensive monthly CSA box full of items they may or may not want, and farms benefit from already established communities and built-in marketing tools, allowing them to focus on what they do best: growing fantastic, healthy food. 

As CitySprout plants its roots (pun intended) in town, we spoke to co-founder Jesse Mayhew about the program's inception, inner-workings and specific benefits. 

CultureMap: Where does your personal investment in and focus on agriculture come from?

Jesse Mayhew: All of CitySprout's Co-Founders spent their childhoods in [different] rural communities populated by the type of small, family-owned and operated farms that CitySprout was built to accommodate. After successful careers in the tech industry, we all started to think about how we could help the type of rural economies we all came from, while at the some time improving the health of urban communities where we ended up pursuing our careers. 

I think another component to it is that CitySprout's offices are currently located in the Pioneer Valley in Western M.A. The Pioneer Valley is host to dozens of small farms and has some of the most fertile soil in the United States. The idea for CitySprout evolved slowly out of many conversations we were all having with our friends and neighbors involved in local agriculture.

CM: Okay, so I joined a few communities, one of which that has 15 members — but still no delivery offers. What does it take to get one up and running?

JM: There is absolutely no minimum required membership before a community can begin to receive offers. When a community starts to receive offers depends entirely on what makes sense for a farmer and/or food producer. Time and distance certainly play a factor for most food producers.

For example, if a dairy farm is located a mile away from a given community, delivering 15 orders might make sense. If they are located an hour outside of the city, it might not.

CM: I read that once there are enough people interested, "CitySprout will set up a community." Do you facilitate the interaction of getting farms to sign on once enough of us are interested?

 Many farmers and food producers find CitySprout to be an excellent way to try and sell their excess capacity and surplus goods — in other words, food that would go to waste were it not for CitySprout.

JM: We certainly champion all of our CitySprout communities, as well as seek to make farmers and food producers aware of our availability as much as we do communities.

Since beginning our efforts in Austin, we have averaged two food producers signing on to our system each day. Any food producer using CitySprout is able to search for communities within a selected radius of their location. 

CM: Is the follow-through of users pretty good? In other words, farmers aren't left with a lot of leftover produce or unfulfilled promises?

JM: At present, no farmer is counting on CitySprout as their primary form of income or business model. Many farmers and food producers find CitySprout to be an excellent way to try and sell their excess capacity and surplus goods — in other words, food that would go to waste were it not for CitySprout. To learn more about America's excess food, I highly recommend this recent paper from the NRDC.

In terms of follow-through, we find that our users are people very excited to receive offers of local food as well as highly motivated to support their local agricultural economies. 

CM: What's the benefit for people joining CitySprout versus joining a CSA?

JM: Typically, CSAs require that people provide an upfront prepayment for a season's worth of food costing anywhere from $200 to $700. This is a huge barrier for entry for a lot of people that would otherwise prefer to be buying and eating local food but can't afford such a large, up front payment. For other people, committing to a CSA share each week simply isn't practical for them for any number of reasons.

 Thus far, we have received interest from a wide variety of food producers including a honey farmer, a coffee roaster, a pie maker, and — my personal favorite — a duck egg ranch! 

In addition, depending on where you live, it can be highly competitive to gain CSA membership (some have waiting lists that are years long.) CitySprout removes these barriers for entry, and in doing so, provides farms and food producers with eager communities they otherwise would never have known were there.  

CM: What's been the response so far in Austin from farms?

JM: Outstanding. As I mentioned, we have been averaging two new food producer sign-ups per day. This includes both Austin's surrounding farms, as well as artisanal food producers. Thus far, we have received interest from a wide variety of food producers including a honey farmer, a coffee roaster, a pie maker, and — my personal favorite — a duck egg ranch! 

CM: Explain a bit the theory of "collective buying power." That term caught my eye in your mission statement. 

JM: Collective buying power is simply referring to the idea that the more active and vibrant a CitySprout community is, the greater the variety and interest from your surrounding farms and local food producers. By coming together with your community, you can receive offers of local food and enjoy the convenience of having it delivered directly to you and your community.

CM: What cities/neighborhoods are your most active communities at present, and what makes them so successful?

JM: In terms of Austin, I think its too soon to say. Most of Austin's business and residential communities are still in the stages of growing their community memberships and spreading awareness.

What makes a community is simple: the engagement of its members and their enthusiasm towards inviting others to join. 


Find or start a CitySprout community in your neighborhood online.

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