This New Site Seeks to Strengthen the Boston Food Industry

This New Site Seeks to Strengthen the Boston Food Industry

This New Site Seeks to Strengthen the Boston Food Industry

Already, Branchfood boasts info on more than 150 local producers, distributors, advocacy groups, funders, startups and composters.

Rebecca Strong - Staff Writer

8/20/15 @11:21am in Tech

"Eat local."

It’s a phrase we’ve been hearing more and more in recent years, as awareness rises around the nutritional benefits of consuming produce that hasn’t traveled thousands of miles and interest in supporting the local agriculture economy increases. Now, there’s even a term for the people who practice this motto: locavores, who tend only to consume food grown within about 100 miles of its point of purchase. Branchfood launched in 2013 as a platform to promote local food innovation, while connecting like-minded people to share their growth-stage food product and food tech companies. The coworking and events startup, which is based at the CIC on Milk Street, recently realized the lack of a go-to source for learning more about the local food ecosystem—so they decided to build one.

Empowering the industry with information

Lauren Abda

Founder Lauren Abda says her inspiration for the Boston Food Network was this Techscene map. The idea was to aggregate information about all the various entities that make up Boston’s food scene, and bring all that data online so that it’s easily accessible and searchable. Currently, the site includes information about over 150 local food producers, distributors, advocacy groups, funders, startups, composters and more. And it’s already receiving national recognition: The Boston Food Network will be featured at the upcoming International Economic Development Council’s annual conference in Anchorage, Alaska—the world's largest annual gathering of economic developers. This new initiative will also be a topic of conversation at the upcoming Branchfood Community Table gathering Sept. 3.

Abda noted that the site will serve a wide range of people in the Boston community, bringing consumer awareness to local businesses while simultaneously helping those who value local food find out about local players.

“It’s the only site where one can gain a holistic understanding of the local food ecosystem,” she said.

For example, the Support Network section will give entrepreneurs an avenue for finding food focused venture funds, consulting services, or potential business partners. Consumers looking to find locally grown producer will find links to existing resources on farms, farmer’s markets and CSAs serving the Greater Boston area. Busy professionals, meanwhile, have access to a list of food/beverage delivery services on the site, and CPG companies can locate farmers markets and retail outlets that may be interested to carry their products. Chefs, of course, will reap rewards from the resource as well: They can use it to find catering companies to work with, as well as food waste and food recovery organizations available for food pickup or drop off.

The way Branchfood sees it, Boston has the potential to be one of the strongest food systems in the country.

“The strength lies at the intersection of Boston’s proximity to local food from New England farms, patronage for supporting local, and emerging entrepreneurial initiatives dedicated to improving access, cost, health, taste, and distance to our food,” explained Abda.

But in order to get there, it will be crucial for more people in the Boston food industry to connect and collaborate—which is where the new site comes in.

Boosting the network's value

During the first stage of pulling this together, Abda says her team received feedback from about 10 local food experts, enthusiasts, and Web design/development specialists on how to improve it. They are aiming to add more functionality in the future, including sorting and filtering entries, featuring new companies and organizations that want to increase their visibility, and providing further information on each organization such business partnerships or how long they have been active. Down the road, they’re also looking at incorporate this resource organically within other existing databases, like the data available on the City of Boston Office of Food Initiatives website.

Above all, Abda emphasized that The Boston Food Network is an evolving resource. Anyone can submit suggestions to add to these lists of food startups, producers, incubators, funders and distributors. She added that Branchfood is also considering ways to incorporate suggestions a la Wikipedia, with users submitting content edits, and Branchfood reviewing/approving. Already, they’ve added Local Food Jobs section based solely on initial feedback.

“We want this resource to continue to grow and be molded by community feedback and suggestions,” she told BostInno. “This is version 1.0.”

A top priority right now, according to Abda, is working with entities like the Office of Food Initiatives to find the best ways to make this information as easily available to the public and the area's stakeholders as possible, while simultaneously enhancing the technical aspects of the site for improved user experience and interest.

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