Choy Division is a one-woman operation. The Orange County farm was founded and continues to be run by Christina Chan, a second-generation Chinese American, whose interest in sustainability and Asian vegetables inspires her work. Chan grows bok choy, bitter melon, daikon radish and more in methods that preserve soil biodiversity and ecosystem health. Less inspiring to her was the drudgery of administrative work related to the farm’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) plans: taking orders, collecting payment and scheduling pick-ups. But then she found GrownBy.
“GrownBy has reduced the administrative burden on the farm and has given me a low-cost online platform from which to sell my products,” Chan says. “I will be using it to facilitate my seedling sale pre-orders, CSA membership accounts and wholesale orders.”
Launched this spring, GrownBy aims to support small farms like Choy Division by using technology to better connect them to new and existing customers. As part of its plan for growth, the team behind the app is first focusing on its own backyard: the Hudson Valley.
GrownBy allows users to find and order from farms in their area. Accessible via desktop and mobile, the app facilitates purchases of CSAs (subscriptions for regularly distributed products) and individual orders. Users select their desired products and distribution points, where they meet with farmers for pick-up. GrownBy can accept payment via credit card, but also has an option to pay offline — via check, for example. The app tacks on a small transaction fee to cover the associated costs.
GrownBy was developed by Farm Generations, a cooperative made up of farmers and technologists. Lindsey Lusher Shute, CEO of Farm Generations and co-owner of Hearty Roots Farm in Clermont, Columbia County, describes the app’s aim of supporting small farmers not as a question of economics, but of survival.
“Farmers — and particularly small farmers — are critical to the health of our region and our nation,” says Shute. “COVID demonstrated the significant risks of a highly consolidated food supply and why local food is more important than ever. GrownBy is built to support our small farms and help them keep up with consumer trends into the future. Our goal is to make buying local food convenient and accessible to everyone.”
GrownBy already hosts 22 farms from Vermont to California, but its developers are encouraging growth from both sides of the equation: customers and farmers. Customers can invite their favorite farms to join the app free of cost, while GrownBy is also working on its own outreach to farmers — especially those in the Hudson Valley. Although Choy Division, Hearty Roots and Northwind Farm are currently the first 3 farms in the region on the app, Shute describes local farmers as their focus.
“Immediately, we are focused on inviting Hudson Valley farms to join,” she says. “The more farms that join in an area, the better the experience for a consumer. We are also looking to incorporate home delivery and a host of other features that will make buying local even easier.”
One of the key selling points to GrownBy may be its cooperative nature. As farmers join the app, they are invited to become part of Farm Generations, giving them not only a portion of the coop’s profits, but also formal decision-making power in its operations via voting rights. This sets GrownBy apart from other services advertising local products, such as Amazon’s Whole Foods Market.
“We have already seen a number of attempts to digitize local food sales, and many of these efforts have come at the expense of producers in one way or another,” explains Shute. “As a cooperative, we can guarantee that we are on the side of farmers.”
In fact, it was GrownBy’s cooperative structure — in addition to the prospect of being liberated from tedious administrative work — that attracted Chan to registering Choy Division on the app, where she is already offering nearly 2 dozen products, such as Asian eggplant, napa cabbage and shishito peppers.
“It greatly reduces the administrative burden on my end and improves my customer experience as well,” says Chan of the app. “I also joined GrownBy because I believe in its cooperative model and want to be part of a system that focuses on its users and their ownership in the system.”