The Food Biz: From farm to everywhere

More food hubs planned to connect people with farmers

Amid nonprofit efforts to create a “food hub” for Nashville, which would connect local farmers to grocery customers via online stores, a pair of entrepreneurs from Birmingham, Ala., are bringing their own online farmers market concept to Nashville and several other cities across the Southeast.

Last month I told you about Nashville Grown, a local group working to create a food hub to help farmers sell produce to restaurants and other institutions, with a website and refrigerated storage. Not long after that I heard from Lisa Shively, publisher of The Local Table magazine, a seasonal guide to local food and farms.

She’s working on a different food hub project, Farm to Plate, which aims to “connect the grower and wholesale buyer to create a healthier and more sustainable local food system.” She set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise startup funds and has collected about $1,800, with a goal of $8,500.

Now we get word about the Birmingham company, Freshfully, a startup that’s been so successful that it’s expanding to Tennessee and other states.
Freshfully is different from the other would-be food hubs, in that it is exclusively targeting individual consumers, not restaurants or schools.

It has also already completed some of the heavy lifting on the tech side — creating a user interface for online ordering.

That’s the work of Sam Brasseale, a Freshfully co-founder and, according to his business partner Jen Barnett, “a complete nerd.” (She says that affectionately.) Barnett is an experienced marketer with an MBA from Emory and a specialty in interactive strategy. She met Brasseale through a mutual friend (his wife), and they started working together on tech projects in Birmingham.

But in their spare time, Barnett said, they were both devoted to eating locally and trying to support sustainable agriculture in Alabama. It wasn’t always easy to find all the good local food — it seems farmers don’t exactly have tons of time and money to spend publicizing their product.

“Eating locally can be a full-time job,” Barnett said. So she and Brasseale teamed up to create Freshfully — to seek out the producers, collect their wares in an online store, and enable a distribution network. That itself was a bigger job than they expected.

“We quickly realized that there’s very little that can be automated,” Barnett said. “You’ve got to have feet on the street, to go out there and meet the farmers. But it turned out to be much more rewarding than we ever thought.”

For funding, they entered a business plan contest sponsored by Incubate!(bang), which describes itself as “a startup accelerator aimed at providing seed funding” to Alabama startups.

They won, and received $30,000 in seed money. They launched the Freshfully website in Birmingham in November; it took off. They opened a bricks-and-mortar store in Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood in May. Last week they announced plans to expand Freshfully to Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis in Tennessee, plus Charleston, S.C.; Pensacola and Tallahassee, Fla.: Little Rock, Ark.; Jackson, Miss.: and Atlanta, Macon and Savannah, Ga. (Only Birmingham will get an actual — as opposed to virtual — store.)

Freshfully is hiring bloggers in every city to do the legwork — reaching out to farmers and compiling their stories and information for the Freshfully site. The bloggers are called Freshfully’s “locavores.”

In Nashville they’ve recruited Susannah Felts, a writer for Tennessee literary site Chapter 16 (and a City Paper and Nashville Scene contributor). She’s already posted farmer profiles, articles and recipes on Freshfully’s Nashville page.

Barnett said she will visit here soon to meet farmers, and expects to have the Nashville site selling veggie boxes and meat shares by the end of the year. She added that she hopes to work side by side with food activists, like the ones working on the nonprofit food hubs.

While Freshfully is a for-profit business, Barnett said, “We don’t have designs to be zillionaires.” Farmers make an average of 16 cents per retail dollar, she said, but Freshfully gives farmers 86 cents on the dollar. Nor would Freshfully compete directly with the proposed food hubs, since it has no plans to try to serve chefs or institutional clients.

Wine bar lovers who miss Rumours on 12th Avenue South — which closed in February to make way for the upcoming apartment-and-retail project 12South Flats — have cause to raise a glass.

Rumours is planning to reopen in the Gulch, in the ground floor of the Icon tower at 1104 Division St., suite 9, according to Metro Codes Department documents. Trendmark Construction LLC has the $202,750 contract for the build-out.

Christy Shuff owns Rumours with managing partner Jenn McCarthy. (Rumours East on Woodland Street has a different ownership.)

As of press time, Shuff had not returned calls seeking details about the new Gulch wine bar.

If you enjoy the sandwiches at chef Jeremy Barlow’s Sloco shop in 12South, but wish it offered more in the way of seating than a handful of bar stools, there’s good news afoot.

Sloco has teamed up with the art gallery next door, Fear No Art, with plans to knock a hole in the wall to create a new space with seating for the restaurant. The room will be a community space for the 12South neighborhood, Barlow said, with classes and events before and after restaurant hours. He expects to have the new dining room open this week.