CropMobster: ‘We started this to help solve a problem and build community’
By Loralee Stevens, Special to the Business Journal
After seeing too much excess produce on his family’s western Sonoma County vegetable farm go to the chickens, Nick Papadopoulos and his partners are building a food and agricultural materials exchange hub called CropMobster.
The next step is to develop a business plan and raise funds to grow the site.
CropMobster (cropmobster.com) launched in March. Founders are Mr. Papadopoulos, manager of his in-laws’ 50-acre Bloomfield Farm; his wife, Jess Flood, and Gary and Joanna Cedar of website development and social media management firm PressTree.
“We started this to help solve a problem and build community,” Mr. Papadopoulos said. “Now that we’ve accomplished that it’s time to expand beyond the Bay Area and roll out the platform statewide and nationally.”
The site is hugely popular among small farmers and backyard growers, who post their surplus fruits and vegetables as discounted deals, donations or freebies.
“If they can make enough to cover their costs they’re happy,” he said. “Or sometimes just finding a hungry home is enough. Otherwise the produce will end up in the compost pile.”
That’s enough to feed more than 25 million Americans a year. What’s more, most of that uneaten food ends up in landfill, where organic waste is responsible for 16 percent of methane production.
“Even on the smallest scale, it makes sense to cut food waste and find a way to transform this resource into value,” said Mr. Papadopoulos.
CropMobster isn’t a passive exchange site. The company utilizes community crowdsourcing, social media platforms Facebook and Twitter as well as email to push its tidings of available food, seeds, plant starts and other items to subscribers, who pay no fee for the information.
School gardens, gleaners who supply food banks, artisan food manufacturers and thrifty households are the beneficiaries. Simply through demand and word of mouth the site has expanded from a local exchange to encompass eight Bay Area counties. National press and grassroots exposure via social media have brought queries from many other states.
That’s why the partners are developing ways to monetize CropMobster. So far donations and auctioned items bring in a little money, but the team and its advisers are currently examining several revenue models, including a commission on any sale. They’re also working on improvements for CropMobster 2.0.
“The altruistic side of CropMobster serves critical community needs related to food access while generating income based on helping sell what previously may have been a total loss for the farmer,” said adviser James Gore, recently assistant director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “I was involved with (USDA’s) ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ movement, part of Michelle Obama’s efforts, and to me the most exciting aspect of CropMobster is the ability to get the word out about the farmers.”
Word of mouth is currently the main means of communication among food growers and food manufacturers, he said. By creating a fulfilling and efficient platform CropMobster would be justified in taking a small commission on food sales and facilitating free donations and other community exchanges.
A small subscription fee for the alerts is also a possibility, although Mr. Papadopoulos is adamant that posting to the site for charitable purposes remain free.
“We’ve more than proved our concept — CropMobster and its community members have moved over 20 tons of food since March, as well as bringing exposure and new revenues to farmers and food sellers,” he said. “We’re beginning talks with investors and getting excited about bringing CropMobster to communities that have asked for it.”
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