Q&A with Foodwaze’s Daniel Stein on the Launch of their Digital Guide to Healthy, Sustainable Food
More and more, consumers are demanding transparency about where their food is coming from, but unfortunately this information is not always easy to find. Where can you purchase local, pasture-raised pork? What farmers and producers is your neighborhood restaurant sourcing from? How can you find a great place to go and eat when traveling to another city? And can you really trust their menu and standards? Well there’s an app for that. Foodwaze is a digital guide that offers an extensive, verified directory of sustainable food businesses. Their goal is to help eaters make better choices about what they eat.
For over a year the Foodwaze team has been building their network in Virginia and on the East Coast, going out and personally visiting and validating each of the listings, which includes farms, restaurants and retail stores. Now they want to take the project national and have launched a Barnraiser crowdfunding campaign to promote their efforts and raise money to expand.
Foodwaze celebrates efforts to advance change, while also creating integrity and accountability in the food system.
We asked Daniel Stein, the “marketing guru” for Foodwaze, a few questions about the start of the program, what the listing process looks like for farms and restaurants and what their crowdfunding campaign is all about. Watch their promotional video below and support the Foodwaze Challenge to bring Foodwaze to your community and across the country!
LET um EAT: What inspired the start of Foodwaze?
Stein: For years we would find ourselves hunting, tirelessly for healthy, nutrient-dense foods. We wanted to support small businesses, small farmers, and those that treated the Earth with respect. Once you become aware of all of the little things we do every day to hurt the planet, you start to become more mindful about how you act and how you spend your money. Unfortunately, we would find ourselves in the same position time and again: digging through google, yelp, websites, menus, and all that. Our children becoming anxious, our stomachs rumbling, and the rabbit hole getting deeper, we just decided it was time to step up and build a system that was reliable. The problem with the way things are now is that no one focuses on sustainability as a topic of their food establishment. Everyone talks about quality, service and price. But when you finally ask if the meat is from sustainable farms or if the veggies are organic or local, you tend to get the run around.
LET um EAT: It’s challenging as a consumer to navigate all of the buzzwords around the food movement, like “natural” and “farm-to-table”. How do you define sustainable and why did you choose that term?
Stein: Truthfully, we’re not sold on the word sustainable. It’s a mouthful and it comes with so many hidden meanings and relevant ideas. We’ve played around with words like “ReGanic and Regenerative” but we chose sustainable because it does present the idea that this food is part of a solution for longevity, rather than a quick fix. I think thats why the “Slow Food Movement” and “Farm-to-Table” movements have had a foundation. People inherently want to be a part of building a food system that has a future. A lot of people know that our current industrialized food system is causing more harm than good, yet they are mostly unable to access the “farm-to-table” restaurants, either because of money or cultural gentrification.
Sustainable means it has a future, and that future is a healthy one.
LET um EAT: What sort of criteria do you consider when qualifying a farm, restaurant or food business to be part of Foodwaze? What does the process look like for them to become listed?
Stein: Our process is very unique. We work with people who are familiar with their local food movement. Generally speaking, it all starts with a few really good farms. When you know a farm that is stepping up and making a difference, you can trace their product around the county, state or region. This leads us to the restaurants and markets they supply to. And from there, we start to identify all of the local producers supplying those same businesses. This type of information can take and individual years to collect. We are dedicating time to scoping out these businesses.
Once we have identified a business, we visit them. So let’s say we hear that “SuzyQ Cafe” is sourcing their coffee from a local roaster who buys direct from micro-lots. And their pastries are gluten-free and use some local ingredients. This is a good starting place. We’ll go to SuzyQ Cafe and make a purchase. Ask the waitstaff or counter person if they can tell us where their food is coming from. They may tell us or they may not know. We dig as deep as we can, taking in the whole experience of the restaurant. Usually we’ll ask to speak with a manager, and try to glean as much information as possible. We’ll list out their sources and move on. This is where it gets tricky.
Up to now, everything we have done could be done by anyone. But we take that list of sources and we start to verify them. We call the local cheese company, the gluten-free flour company, the coffee company, and so on. We ask them about their practices. We ask them if they use organic or non-gmo grains, if the animals are on pasture, if the coffee is from micro-lots and if its fair trade. When we can, we visit those businesses and essentially start the process over. Finally, we write our stories, in a casual language for the end-user. We incorporate back-story about business owners. We humanize everything as much as we can.
Ultimately, we only ask that businesses are honest with us. We highlight the effort businesses are making. And that will look different from town to town. In Portland, for example, sustainable food, farmers markets and the demand to know is pretty common. So it will take more for a business to be listed on Foodwaze. Simply sourcing hormone-free dairy won’t help you. But, if you’re 200 miles due east of Portland, in a tiny rural town, and you’re the only gas station for 25 miles. You have an opportunity to make a real difference. Hormone-free milk and grass-fed beef make all the difference in the world.
LET um EAT: How do you plan to scale your model? Do you see any challenges with that?
Stein: Our model is based on Real People diving into their own Local Food movement. The scale of local food is already determined by our culture. Denver has its movement, which may include Boulder. Portland is clearly separate from Seattle. We have people all over the country starting to walk into their favorite businesses, dig into the source of the food, verify everyone’s claims by engaging the farmers and food producers and finally telling everyone’s story in a way that is completely normal, highlighting the good. We are extremely confident that people everywhere are demanding to know where their food comes from. With Farmer’s Markets popping up more frequently than ever, It will not be hard to locate the center of a local food movement.
I think the only challenge to scaling up is whether or not people can become aware of what we are doing. If Foodwaze has 500 businesses from Chicago and Austin TX, but none from Denver, people may think it hasn’t made its way out to them and therefore it is irrelevant. Ultimately this is why we created the Crowdfunding Campaign.
In terms of a business model, we are asking that the end-user pay a monthly or annual subscription for Foodwaze. We are doing this to keep businesses out of the money. We will not advertise or promote a business for dollars. This work is too critical and these businesses are all making a difference. So we will not over promote one because they can afford it. However, the consumer, who demands this information is willing to spend $4/mo or $25/year for it.
LET um EAT: Do you have any comment on the recent Farm-To-Fable article by Laura Reilly that exposed a number of Tampa Bay restaurants that were claiming local sources for ingredients on their menu, which she disproved? How is Foodwaze making a difference and ensuring and promoting the truth for consumers, farms and restaurants?
Stein: We really appreciate Laura’s efforts to bring transparency to the food system. She stirred up a pot and restaurants around the country are sure to be held a slight bit more accountable. However, the drama and the buzz will die down, and once again consumers will be left with the impossible task of asking waitstaff, managers, and baristas about the source of their food. And most likely, it will be just as difficult now as it was before Laura’s article. And that’s not because businesses lie, or are deceptive. Its because this information is complicated, and hard to market. It takes a lot of work to even keep up with a dozen or two dozen local producers. We aim to compile this information as a third party and keep it actively updated for the end-user. We really ask very little from businesses, other than the web of sustainable food.
We’re committed to focusing on the truth and what’s positive. We avoid exposing a business for its poor choices. And it’s because we know that running a food business takes a lot of work, a lot of money and usually a lot of compromises. There is no sense in talking about what’s wrong, when there is so much that is right. And that’s what we’re doing.
At Foodwaze, we are aiming to build a food system that is more accessible, more affordable and more transparent. Therefore, we aim to identify businesses of all sizes, in all places, doing anything they can to make a positive impact on our food system and our world.
LET um EAT: Tell us a bit about the crowdfunding campaign. Why did you choose to do a crowdfunding campaign? What is the goal of the campaign?
Stein: The Barnraiser Campaign has a few purposes. First, we are a small company from Charlottesville, VA. The majority of the 300 “Places” listed on Foodwaze were visited by Michael Reilly, Co-Founder. And the App itself was designed by Lou Foster, Co-Founder, who works Full-time at UVA. There is a lot of sweat equity going into this business and we realized that in order to grow into something that could make a real impact we would need to hire a full-time programmer and people all over the country who want to visit sustainable food businesses. Second, we didn’t have a lot of brand recognition, so we thought that creating a crowdfunding campaign would help bring awareness about what we’re doing. We set our goal at $100,000. This would allow us to get the real work started. Finally, we believe that people in every town and city in America are demanding to know where their food comes from. Therefore, they must be willing to throw down a few dollars to help make that happen, and have it in the palm of their hands.
So we originally we going to use Indiegogo, the well known “non-profit” crowdfunding platform. We were 10 days away from launching our campaign. I was attending the Food Tank Food Summit in DC and was approached by Eileen Gordon, Founder of Barnraiser. She asked me if she could persuade us to move our campaign to Barnraiser. They are a platform supporting Good Food Businesses. This was a clear opportunity for partnership. Barnraiser has a “Discovery” wall on their website which is basically a Pinterest Board for Good Food; businesses, people, markets, events, organizations. You can find all of these things on their Discovery platform. Except, when Eileen approached me she said they couldn’t find a reliable source for restaurants and markets. She said, “No one has created that yet, and then you came along.”
Now you can find over 40 Foodwaze Listings on Barnraiser. We’re really excited to have this partnership. So we launched our campaign on May 1 and have raised over $16,000. The cornerstone of our campaign is offering a 5-year subscription to Foodwaze for $25. This is our way of asking people all over the country to help seed this business and give us a little time to get out to your community and start telling the stories of sustainable food businesses! We call it the Foodwaze Challenge because we challenge everyone to contribute on behalf of their state and their local food movement. We’ve already received contributions from over a dozen states and we expect that number to keep growing. The campaign ends June 10 and we hope to raise over $100,000.
Watch the Foodwaze Challenge video below and visit their Barnraiser page to contribute and bring Foodwaze to your community and across the country.