Wyatt’s World

Farm to table – it’s the real deal

Restaurant entrepreneur Jeff Good has a grand plan to transform rural Mississippi and bring back truck farming using a high-tech farm-to-table model. There’s eight billion dollars at stake.

 Mississippians import eight billion dollars worth of tomatoes, cucumbers and other dinner table vegetables. Meanwhile, 1.2 million acres of ready-to-go farmland goes fallow. We spend billions transporting the food we eat from the other side of the country, or even the world. It is this paradox Good wants to address.

Good and a cohort of investors and entrepreneurs are planning to build a new infrastructure that would make it efficient for small Mississippi food producers to sell to Mississippi restaurants and grocery stores.

Basically, their new company would become wholesalers to small farmers, providing the shipping, cleaning, packaging and marketing services the small farmers so desperately need.

Even more, Good’s company, Up in Farms Food Hub, would supply technology, seeds, capital and know-how to allow small farmers to compete against global mega producers.

Good noted that Mississippi exports seven billion dollars of agricultural products, but it’s all row crops such as corn, cotton, soybeans, timber and mass-produced chicken. What we actually eat is imported from around the world.

New technology such as drones, hydroponics, half tunnels, computerized watering systems and other technology can allow small-scale, specialized farmers to compete with mass production and its high transportation costs. But these new farm entrepreneurs need a system to get their products to market efficiently.

Already, Good has raised a substantial amount of money in grants and private capital. A new warehouse is underway at the farmers market near Veterans Stadium.

Speaking to the Rotary Club of North Jackson, Good pointed out that small farmers don’t have time to transport their products to dozens of different farmers markets and sit there all day. Some farmers just sell their products on the side of the road with a handmade sign. That’s pathetic.

If these farmers had a company that would take care of the delivery, packaging and marketing, they could devote more time to production and be competitive.

In Good’s vision, Up In Farms would have a fleet of refrigerated trucks criss-crossing the state linking the new small farmers with hundreds of restaurants and grocers, bringing more organic, fresher, locally-produced food to our tables.

It’s a grand vision, supported by Gov. Bryant and other movers and shakers. It’s a great example of how Mississippi could improve itself through vision and initiative. Good for Good!

I have known Jeff Good for more than 20 years. I was an original investor in Bravo where Jeff’s drive and perseverance earned my small investment back many times over. Since then, Jeff and his partner Dan Blumenthal expanded, adding Sal & Mookies, Broad Street and other successful enterprises.

It’s been heartening watching their success over the years. Indeed, it’s a great American success story - a perfect example of what makes this country so remarkable.

Could they possibly take their experience and use it to advance their vision to a whole other level? It would be wonderful to see. Stranger things have happened. They certainly have the character, smarts and drive to succeed.

I am reminded of the tiny country of the Netherlands, where my sister used to live. When I visited her, I was amazed to learn that this tiny country was the second biggest agricultural exporter in the world. They did it with high-tech greenhouses.

Mississippi certainly has the land, the water and the sun. There are so many Mississippians that live on 40 acres or so but have to commute dozens of miles to work a job in a factory or store. Imagine, if they could use their land to grow edible crops, helping to reduce our state’s $8 billion dollar food dependency.

We have already seen how GPS, computers, genetically-modified seeds and other mind-boggling advances have transformed massive row crops farming techniques.

The question is whether this same technology can be applied to small-scale truck farming and make it efficient enough to compete with mass production and its high energy costs.

One thing is for sure: An intermediary distribution-packaging-marketing company such as Up In Farms is a crucial piece of the puzzle. It can’t happen without it.

This is not a pipe dream. Google “farm to table industry growth.” This is the real deal.

Fortune magazine wrote, “Consumers’ appetite for local foods is exploding. Overall, local foods generated $11.7 billion in sales in 2014, and will climb to $20.2 billion by 2019, according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm.

“Not only has there been huge growth in the number of farm-to-table restaurants and farmers’ markets, but grocery chains and big box retailers, including Wal-Mart, are elbowing their way in, aggressively expanding and marketing their locally grown offerings for sale.”

A perfect example is beer brewing. It used to be dominated by mass production companies such as Budweiser and Miller. Now local breweries are growing like wildfire, bringing consumers locally-brewed beer of higher quality.

If Mississippi wants progress we need to support visionaries like Jeff Good and Up in Farms. He’s looking for investors and support. We should rally behind him and help make this happen.

Holly Springs South Reporter

P.O. Box 278
Holly Springs, MS 38635
PH: (662) 252-4261
FAX: (662) 252-3388

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