KNOW is a marketplace platform that seeks to foster relationships between farmers and consumers, while bolstering the revitalization of our food systems. We believe that a platform such as this will increase the access to and efficiency of a more sustainable food system, all the while providing the foundation needed for it to scale.
This idea was not the initial vision for the platform, however. I can actually remember the exact moment that started this journey, and it had nothing to do with trying to create a more sustainable food system. In fact, it started out as just a simple Google search. All I was looking for on a crisp, October afternoon before starting a road trip was a local coffee shop where I could grab a quick cup of delicious joe. Instead what I got with the push of a button was a barrage of a thousand different results, all of which claimed to meet my need. In reality, none of these proposed remedies helped me quench my thirst. From generic coffee brands that were claiming to be “sustainably-sourced” to high-end boutique coffee that I would have to sell an internal organ to be able to afford, there seemed to be no clarity in what constituted local, quality, or specialty products. This one, simple Google search led me down a rabbit-hole of caffeinated curiosity, and the further down I went, the more confused I became.
Needless to say, I ended up having to use the old point and shoot method for finding my coffee that afternoon, and even though it satisfied my craving in the moment, it left me thinking about how that steaming black liquid in my cup went from a seed on a tree to the caffeinated beverage before me. If the simplest part of the process, drinking the coffee, was this complicated how much more complicated must the rest of the process be?
I became fascinated with this thought, so I started researching how coffee was grown, processed, transported, sold, and eventually consumed. While I was educating myself about the supply chain of coffee, I began to wonder if the issue was bigger than coffee itself. Did the ambiguity I found surrounding coffee exist for other food products as well? Was the complexity of the coffee supply chain shared by the food system as a whole? If so, what did this mean for me as a consumer, or better yet the farmers who grew my food? At this point I was in too deep to just let it go. I had to at least attempt to understand what was happening. What I discovered was not only just as confusing and complex, but also incredibly shocking and disheartening.
From soil and seed to processing and consumption, layer upon layer has been added to the food system over the past century, making it overly complex and virtually opaque. This transformation has left consumers with highly-processed, low-quality foods on their plates and crippled the control farmers have over their businesses. Take, for example, the fact that most fruits and vegetables are packaged in gas that allows producers to falsify the ripeness of a product. Even more alarming is the fact that the average apple is in storage for up to 12 months before being sold at the supermarket. This all means that the products we are eating, while they look picture perfect , are not only less tasty, but also less nutritious given the lack of freshness and ripeness.
The issues aren’t limited to quality though. The current food system has also caused incredible environmental damage as agriculture has moved away from an ecological approach toward a heavy reliance on external inputs. This has led to huge dead zones in bodies of water from runoff, mass deforestation to allow for more farmland, and devastating depletion of soil health.
The information I was uncovering wasn’t all depressing though. I quickly saw that I was far from the first or only person to be concerned over what was happening in the food system. Looking at food trends over the past 20 years, it’s evident that consumers are no longer satisfied with the status quo and are looking for alternatives to the current food system. Organic food sales have been trending aggressively upward since the early 2000’s, mirrored closely by the increase in the number of farmers’ markets, consumer supported agriculture (CSAs), and food hubs, all of which provide consumers the opportunity to purchase locally-produced food.
These consumer preferences put an emphasis not only on high-quality food products, but also on the livelihood of those responsible for producing them. As these distribution channels and the demand for local food grows, farming has become a viable and attractive option for a career. Smaller, specialty farms that are biologically diverse have been increasing in number, as has their productivity and revenue. In the research I conducted, I found that the average farm revenue was $49,000, which $17,214 more than the national average income of $31,786.
Average national income
Average smallholder farm income
But, even with all of this growth and positive momentum, there is still a disconnect within the movement as a whole. For the vast majority of consumers this is driven largely by lack of access and convenience, which significantly hinders involvement from the masses. For farmers, this lack of unification makes it more difficult to manage sales and customer relations. This fragmentation of the local food system coupled with the issues I had learned about in our current one is what started the idea of creating a platform to help build a more sustainable food system. People need a way to easily find and obtain healthy, fresh food in a simple way and farmers need the ability to manage sales and customer relations more efficiently. If we can remove these barriers, we will be able to recognize the full potential of a more sustainable food system and provide the unification required for it to scale.
Our goal at Know isn’t to solve all the problems facing our current food system in one fell swoop, but instead to begin by fostering the most basic relationship in the system: that between farmer and consumer. By bringing these two parties together, we seek to empower individuals to make the decisions they deem important when it comes to their food. Establishing this fundamental relationship will lay the groundwork for the continued growth of a more sustainable food system required for a prosperous future.