Farming Gets Personal

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

wheat-farmer

What do you get when you cross a computer geek with a sack of flour?The Find the Farmer web site, that’s what.

Find the Farmer is the inspiration of Josh Dorf, 39, a technology guy who apparently did well enough in the dot.com boom years that in 2003 he could buy the Stone-Buhr flour company, a 100-year-old brand, from Unilever, a multinational consumer products company with holdings such as Ben & Jerry’s, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Q-Tips, Skippy, Slim-Fast, and Vaseline. (Unilever’s lawyers would like it if I mention that all those names are registered trademarks of the holding company.)

Stone-Buhr flour is sold only on the west coast. If you can find a sack, on the web site you can type in the lot code printed on the side of the bag and be rewarded with a list of farmers who sell their wheat to the company. Click on the name of one of them, and you can ask the farmer a question.

The site seems quite new; the blog archives go back only to January 2009, there are only a few posts, and the four questions on the Ask the Farmer page are all softballs like “Why is your wheat better?” and “Do you grow other crops?” Someone named Fred answers them all. All that may change, and soon, though. The New York Times on Saturday had an article about the site.

There’s more to this web site, and other efforts to bring farmers and consumers closer to each other, than mere warm fuzzies. The underlying idea is commonly known as traceability – giving consumers and the government that presumably protects them from faulty food growing and processing practices a way to track food that makes people sick – think e. coli and salmonella – to its source. Not only might accurate traceability avoid debacles like the one in which tomatoes were blamed for an outbreak that was eventually found to be caused by jalapeno peppers.

Also, knowing that traceability could come back to bite you might make  farmers even more careful in handling what they grow. The NYTimes quotes one farmer this way:

“The person who puts that scone in their mouth can now say, ‘Oh my God, there’s a real person behind this,’ ” said Read Smith, 61, who runs Cherry Creek Ranch, a 10,000-acre farm and cattle ranch in Eastern Washington. “They are going to bite into that bread or pastry and know whose hands were on the product.”

The whole New York Times article is here.

Photo: WallaceJames/flickr

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One Response to “Farming Gets Personal”

  1. A computer geek, huh?  Who said that!  Thanks for the story – we’re having fun with the site!

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