Picking up the slack: connecting local farmers to Midcoast buyers with one click
Chefs and farmers have a lot in common in that after a long 12-hour day, the last thing they probably want to do a lot of calling around and internet research to find the right market to buy or sell food, respectively.
Arif Shaikh, a website coder, who moved to Camden from Boston last year, loves to cook using local produce. He has a huge following on his Camden Top Secret Curry Club with 1,450 members. He saw a need to eliminate the paperwork and hassle of trying to source local produce for restaurants and grocery stores and sought a way to make an open, interactive network for local farmers to sell their produce directly— a win-win for everyone, especially the patrons of the Midcoast’s bustling food scene. His website, Foodslack, is a network designed to give the community faster, fresher, and greater local sourcing options.
“It’s meant to reduce the burden on farmers to find them immediate buyers and a resource for chefs wanting to coordinate deliveries to get the best, quality food,” he said.
Farmers, he has learned, are protective of their prices, which has made them somewhat reluctant to embrace this new technology. However, the demand for local produce from cooperatives, shops, restaurants, distributors, butchers, and fishmongers is not stopping, particularly as the growing season approaches.
“It’s easier to order fuel from Saudia Arabia than it is to order food from a farm in Skowhegan right now,” he said.
Shaikh wants to change that. “How it works in Maine is there are two markets; there’s a national market and a local market. So, if you are a chef in a restaurant, you could order from one of the bigger purveyors and get carrots for $2 pound from California, because some grower has 10,00 acres and is using cheap labor and pesticides.” However, with Maine’s Restaurant Industry posting record sales in 2016 and with the farm-to-table movement going strong in the Midcoast, most restaurants don’t want the $2 a pound California carrots.
They want to buy local; it’s just hard to find on a daily basis the exact quantities, prices, and products—something in their long workday they don’t necessarily have time for.
“The whole purpose is to make it easier on everybody,” said Shaikh who charges a minimal monthly fee for his website service taking no percentages off the transactions. “Restaurants just want to work with a distributor that they can click on what they want and they get it the next day. Until now, there has been no way to do that seamlessly.”
Foodslack is new and the farming selling season hasn’t happened yet, but there are a number of restaurants already eager to use the service.
Chef Ean Woodward, of Ebantide in Camden, is an early adopter of the network and said: “I don’t put on my menu house made, fresh or local anymore, because it’s understood when people walk into a restaurant of caliber in the Midcoast like ours, that the restaurant will be sourcing locally. As we go into the summer, we exclusively use local farmers. Instead of me running around to farmer’s markets and to the co-op, I just go online and pick exactly what I want and have it delivered to me. I can’t tell you how important that is to me, as saves me several hours a week hunting for fresh produce and products.”