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Web service aims for farm-fresh produce at big-box prices

At TechCrunch Disrupt, a Silicon Valley startup demonstrates a service that links groups looking for inexpensive farm-fresh meat and produce with the farmers producing the wares. Already, thousands have signed up.

SAN FRANCISCO--Any fan of tomatoes knows that buying them at farmers' markets is expensive, yet the alternative of buying affordable, bland tomatoes at supermarkets is entirely unattractive.

The same dynamic, of course, goes for just about any type of fresh food, be it meat, fish, or other vegetables. And while there are a growing number of companies that deliver fresh produce to people's homes, consumers have very little control over what they get when they buy in to such systems.

Now, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup called Farmigo is throwing its hat into the ring, hoping to help consumers get the best, freshest local produce, at supermarket prices. It's an ambitious idea that aims to cut large factories and big-box distribution systems out of the equation, and if it scales, it could be the key to large numbers of people getting the kinds of fresh meat and vegetables they want.

The system works by essentially directly linking together farmers and consumers, though not on a one-to-one basis. Instead, Farmigo has created a system in which farmers deliver their goods to centralized locations. Buyers pick up their produce at those locations.

They key to the Farmigo system, which the company demonstrated here at TechCrunch Disrupt today, is the group-buying dynamics that results from farmers delivering their wares only if enough people at any individual location agree to buy them. What that means is that if a farmer requires 10 buyers in order to deliver, they don't have to do so until at least 10 sign up there.

Already, Farmigo has created a network of more than 1,500 delivery/pick-up locations, many of which are at companies like Google, where dozens of employees are taking advantage of the ability to pick up their groceries right at work. The same goes for other types of locations, including community centers, or schools.

Would-be users can type in an address and see a location near them. They can see who delivers there, and what type of food is delivered, as well as what day or days the food arrives. Users can also see what types of grocery distribution is available. For example, one farm delivers a variety of different meat selections, including the $100 "Grande meat share," which promises an "assortment of pasture-raised beef, pork and chicken. [The] assortment [is]determined by availability of cuts. From London broil to rib-eye steak to ground beef all our beef is of the highest quality and comes from grass fed and grass finished cows. From roasts to cutlets and chops our pork is always juicy and delicious, and our pasture raised chickens are robust and fresh to your table."

This seems like a great idea, and clearly is already working at a local level. For it to really take off, it needs to attract a wide number of buyers and farmers in a diverse geographical area. And that depends on people outside foodie regions like Silicon Valley and San Francisco deciding that it's worth signing up for a system like this that requires them to pick up groceries in nontraditional locations like the office or the kids' school.

But if it does work, it could help promote something that is desperately needed: a broader adoption of farm-fresh food and a rapid reduction in reliance on Big Food controlling the way that fruits, vegetables, and meats get to our tables.