As much as we like to tout the benefits and advantages of sourcing more of our food locally, actually getting homegrown and local food on our table is a bit more challenging than it ought to be. Farmers markets and farm stands are a great place to find local growers that plant and harvest enough to bring to market, but it takes a fair amount of commitment and equipment to be a market gardener, so they don't often host backyard growers who end up with excess produce.
Platforms such as local forums or Craigslist are an alternative method of finding local foods, but they don't tend to be a place to find wild edibles or fruit trees that are growing on public properties, so urban foragers looking for ripe local fruits rely on word of mouth (and many of them are unwilling to disclose their favorite locations) or local food maps, which can take quite a bit of work to put together.
However, a new web platform aims to change that, by making it much simpler to connect local foodies with local backyard growers, and to put more public domain fruit trees on the map so that people can put those fruits to good use.Ripe Near Me, which is currently in beta, is a self-funded labor of love from developers Alistair Martin and Helena Martin, of Adelaide, Australia, and it was born from the realization that while there were plenty of citrus trees full of fruit scattered around their suburbs (which nobody was harvesting or eating), the grocery stores were full of not-so-local fruit for sale. They thought to themselves, "Why not have a site that allows foodies to connect with growers? Wouldn't it be cool if we could get all our fresh food from the local neighborhood?"
Ripe Near Me users can sign up to either post produce or other local foods (such as eggs) that they are willing to sell, swap, or share with others, or to find local homegrown or wild food items for their own consumption (or both), which could serve to make local food systems stronger and more diverse and resilient.
According to the website, the goals of the platform are many, but in a nutshell, Ripe Near Me wants to "dramatically increase the quantity of urban and sustainably grown foods," and to give foodies better access to local and seasonal foods. In addition to these admirable goals, the site aims to also provide an effective platform for growers to establish profitable micro-farms and backyard gardens, and to reduce the potential for food waste, which can be an issue in both home gardens and with neighborhood fruit trees or those on public property.
In an interview on Collaborative Consumption, Ripe Near Me co-founder Alistair Martin shares another intriguing element of the platform, which is subscribing to fruit trees or produce items:
"... people can subscribe to individual fruit trees/produce to receive notifications when they’re marked ripe, or when the grower posts an update. There is no limit to the number of subscriptions you can have (or the number of subscribers you can have to your produce), so it’s possible in the future to receive weekly or daily emails letting you know that your favourite foods are ready to pick."
Like many startup ideas, it really takes a critical mass to make it work well, as without listings in any given area, there isn't an incentive for people to use it, but the more people that register and start listing their own produce or mapping their local fruit tree locations, the better it is for all of the users. The founders urge people to add their produce now, even if they don't yet have enough to share or sell: "As long as it’s growing, it belongs on RipeNearMe, and you can change the status to “ripe” later. Listing your produce early allows you to collect subscribers, which ensures that your excess doesn’t go to waste, and that you’ll have buyers lined up."
Ripe Near Me is completely free to use, both for growers and for foodies, so there's no disadvantage to participating, and it could have a great positive impact on local food systems, as well as possibly putting money back in your pocket.
As the site is currently entirely self-funded, in order to grow Ripe Near Me into a much bigger and wider-reaching local food platform, the founders have turned to crowdfunding with a campaign on Start Some Good, where they hope to raise enough money to turn it into a financially sustainable social enterprise.