My journey to co-founding Food4All was a long and circuitous path. Some of the inspiration came from being a first time father. Another was my life situation, a tech guy taking a break from technology with 2.5 acres and irrigation rights that needed to be managed. Being married to an athlete who saw nutrition as a competitive advantage was another motivation. All this factored together to blossom me from a city slicker into a complete organic gardener and locavore advocate, and now the co-founder of a technology company that aspires to help communities thrive by directly connecting farmers, ranchers and food artisans to their local community.
With the birth of our daughter in 2002, my wife, Kami Semick, and I became parents. This event coincided with my attempt to take a break from technology. We had lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay area, myself for my adult life, and my wife for the previous decade. But with the onset of parenthood, we looked around and decided it was a great time to move. For a variety of reasons, including the advice from parents around us to start applying to pre-kindergarten as soon as our daughter was born, we picked up and moved to Bend.
We ended up purchasing a house with 2.5 acres on the East side. That property happened to have irrigation rights. We later learned after a failed inspection that if we didn’t irrigate a certain portion of our property (this topic could easily be an article of its own) we could lose the rights. Irrigation rights are quite valuable and a material portion of a property’s value. I quickly decided that I didn’t want a larger lawn or an ornamental or flower garden. I chose to grow food. And as much as possible.
In my quest to grow food, I read as many books on the subject of small farms as I could get my hands on. I built a pond with an irrigation pump so I could generate enough water pressure to run 15+ irrigation zones. I built six 8 x 12 foot raised beds complete with cold frames and UV resistant greenhouse plastic covers. I built chicken coops, fences, PVC and drip lines. I planted a small orchard with apples, pears and cherries. I learned how to make compost the right way. I learned how to replace valves and other equipment the hard way. None of this was easy for an ultimate city slicker, someone from San Jose, California with a computer science degree. However, after climbing the learning curve, within a few years I was growing enough vegetables and eggs to feed the family (and neighbors) almost all year long.
Around the same time, my wife Kami ran her first ultra-marathon near Ashland in 2004. She ended up doing really well, and went on to run many ultras all over the world. Being such an extreme athlete really raised the bar on the quality of our family’s diet. We ate pretty well in the past, but now we started paying much more attention to the nutritional value of our food, and where it came from. Needing to supplement proteins and grains that we couldn’t grow ourselves, we sought out local farmers and ranchers and subscribed to our first community supported agriculture products (CSAs). We immediately loved the concept of local CSAs.
As our daughter entered middle school, we noticed that the school was sending a form home with the kids. We as parents didn’t have an easy and convenient way to pay for the lunches. We sometimes forgot to sign up or pay for lunch, much to the consternation of our daughter. So we approached the school and asked them if they were interested in an “App” that would make it easier for parents buy lunch and for the school to manage the lunch orders. They pretty much immediately said yes. We also approached one of the farmers that provided us with a CSA. They were interested as well in an easier way to sign up CSA subscribers and manage their CSA program.
Standard e-commerce has been done before. But e-commerce where buyers only see sellers in their local area is different. And with the extra challenge of making a solution simple and convenient enough for busy farmers and ranchers to use the platform to sell their goods, and busy individuals and families can find and buy from a local source through their mobile device.
We went on to design and develop a local food buying and management system, which is now Food4All. We have schools, farmers, ranchers, food artisans and consumers using it to connect all over the Pacific Northwest. We couldn’t be busier and are still adding new features to the platform every week, with more and more food suppliers signing up and using the platform. Time will tell where we take this, but the journey has been quite an adventure — an adventure that is just beginning.