A new farmer-owned app is connecting consumers with growers across the United States. Called GrownBy, the app allows shoppers to purchase produce directly from farms. These personal transactions give growers more control over their business, which could in turn help strengthen local food systems.
GrownBy shows users a map with all participating farms in their area. Consumers can browse farms for single-purchase produce, or a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) plan. If a shopper doesn’t see their local farm on the map, they can invite them to join the app.
There are over 60 farms registered on GrownBy, and more than 1,200 shoppers, Lindsey Lusher Shute tells Food Tank. Along with co-owning Hearty Roots Community Farm in New York, she is the founder and CEO of Farm Generations Cooperative, which developed GrownBy. The app originated at the National Young Farmers Coalition, which Lusher Shute co-founded more than a decade ago.
“At Young Farmers, we were looking for opportunities for our network of farmers to support each other more directly as business owners,” Lusher Shute tells Food Tank. “We surveyed the entire membership and technology rose to the top of our priority list.”
This was around the time that online ordering apps began to grow in popularity, she says, but none were being developed with small farmers at the forefront.
“It felt incredibly risky that farmers had no stake in the companies that were stepping in to control the future marketplace for farm products,” Lusher Shute tells Food Tank.
GrownBy started beta testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, which further cemented the importance of online ordering.
“COVID-19 left no room for doubt about whether food sales would move online — we all saw it happen overnight,” she says. The beta release began with 18 farms for the 2020 growing season; by the fall, GrownBy’s waiting list topped 400 farmers.
The pandemic also revealed instabilities in the national supply chain — and highlighted the importance of local food systems.
Lusher Shute points out that when some grocery stores suffered shortages, local farms were able to supply their communities. “Last year we learned how local food systems based on direct sales can withstand shocks better than national ones,” Lusher Shute tells Food Tank. “There are disruptions to come for the food system at large, with climate change front and center, so these local relationships are truly more important than ever.”
One key element of GrownBy, she says, is the app is owned by the farmers who sell on the platform. Every farmer who makes a sale on GrownBy can join the Farm Generations Cooperative by buying a member share, which allows them to vote on co-op matters, such as the board and leadership, and receive patronage dividends.
The app also gives growers more control over their business. Each purchase is a direct transaction between a farmer and consumer, with no third party facilitating the sale. Direct sales are often the only way for a new farmer to get started and build a business, Lusher Shute says. This also allows each farmer to set their own prices.
GrownBy’s ultimate goal is to help farmers increase their sales, and to increase the number of consumers who are buying local food, Lusher Shute tells Food Tank.
“People love buying directly from a farmer,” she says. “Shoppers also love to feel rooted and connected through farmer relationships — to know a person who spends their days working on the land. This means a lot to folks who are removed from this connection.”