While local produce is in demand at more and more foodservice establishments, procuring this produce can still be complicated. Farmlogix aims to make the process streamlined and easy to track and certify with help from its technology platform.
Linda Mallers started FarmLogix as a side project. She worked with local farms to gather produce to sell to friends and use for PTA fundraisers at her children’s school in Evanston, Ill. But soon the district’s high school asked to use the product in the school's cafeterias, an initiative that gained press attention.
It was 2012, explains Mallers (left), and the farm-to-school movement was just gaining traction. Around the same time, Aramark was bidding to manage a much larger school district—Chicago Public Schools (CPS). And they asked if FarmLogix might be able to supply produce for CPS.
When Aramark won the bid to serve CPS, FarmLogix's client base grew from one to over 600 schools. But Mallers was ready to scale up, thanks, in part, to her technology platform that connects institutional kitchens to local farms.
FarmLogix canvases the agricultural community in specific regions and gathers growing and product information, which is then aggregated on its technology platform. Foodservice directors can search for the products they’re looking for and purchase what they need from dozens of farms with one order. FarmLogix works directly with foodservice management companies, such as Aramark at CPS, and schools receive local produce in the same way they receive other products, avoiding any safety or organizational issues that might occur when a farm delivers directly. FarmLogix works with schools and farms to ensure that all product complies with USDA guidelines. And by working with the FarmLogix, schools can also plan and promote their local produce because they know what they’re getting and where it’s coming from before it arrives.
The company supplies produce and meat from farms to schools, districts, universities and other non-commercial kitchens across the country by working with many foodservice management companies.
For farms, FarmLogix offers access to industrial kitchens and the company’s technology platform, which includes an electronic purchase order system and the ability to generate a food safety compliant label.
Lucas Roosa from This Old Farm in Colfax, Ind., visiting a local school to demonstrate how he prepares meat.
“What we do is we use technology to manage both the food safety piece and the source identification,” says Mallers. “So when districts order from us, they know when they're ordering and what farm's products they’re buying.”
Before working with FarmLogix, getting produce from local farms was difficult and decentralized, says Leslie Fowler, the chief of nutrition and facilities operations at CPS. “Farmers are all independent entities and don't necessarily work with any specific aggregator,” says Fowler. Previously CPS would make separate orders to multiple farms to serve the whole district. But with FarmLogix it’s as though all local farms are working together. “So it really takes a lot off the foodservice management company's plate.”
FarmLogix has recently expanded the reach of local food by selling affordable local produce and meat to Chicago parents, teachers and community members in a CSA box.
The company also supports “the educational aspect” of farm-to-school food, says Fowler. “It doesn't do you a whole lot to buy [local produce] if the kids don't know about it.” FarmLogix helps arrange visits from farmers and creates educational and marketing materials so schools can promote their farm fresh meals.
“It's important to know where it's coming from a connection standpoint,” says Mallers. “We think it's really important, particularly with areas of low income that don't have as much access to healthy foods, to teach kids the importance of knowing where their food comes from that it grows out of the ground and why it's important to eat healthy. And if you don't know who's growing your food you lose that opportunity.”
When schools don’t know who is growing their food, they miss out on other opportunities as well.
Before working with FarmLogix, Fowler ran into issues trying to confirm where her product came from. Watchdog groups asked her to confirm that CPS was sourcing from local farms, and “it was difficult for us to continue to say we use local produce” when she couldn’t validate it, she says.
Validating and documenting local purchases is becoming increasingly important, says Mallers. And many schools use FarmLogix’s technology platform specifically for its tracking and reporting services, not to source local food.
Michigan recently launched an initiative to reimburse schools 10 cents per meal if they can show they supported a local farm. The state is using FarmLogix’s technology to document their purchases from local farms. “You are seeing a lot of incentivizing starting to happen,” says Maller. “You're seeing USDA funding for state programs.”
The ability to certify and communicate where food comes from has another benefit, says Mallers. “When there's a lot of transparency and visibility and data, there's higher participation.”