Bucky Box paves the way for local food startups

Programmer meets local food distribution system. They love each other very much and seven months later Bucky Box is born.

bucky box local food startup challengeProgrammer meets local food distribution system. They love each other very much and seven months later Bucky Box is born.

Conscientious eaters, gourmands and hippies alike have realised that fruit and veg is way better – flavour-wise, planet-wise – when it comes from just down the road. And there’s something idyllic about the idea of eating within a 10-kilometre radius of where you live and poop.

Delivery boxes are a cute idea, but the logistics are killer. So Ooooby co-founder and tech-guy- about-town Will Lau set out to make the process simpler for everyone else trying to do the same thing. Small farmers should be limited by their production capacity, he reckoned, not the time they have available to spend on admin.

Lau came up with Bucky Box, a software package that automates subscriptions, delivery and billing, meaning local food distributors can kiss their spreadsheets goodbye.

“We estimate that there’s an 80 percent time-saving on admin,” says co-founder Sam Rye. “Producers have time to find new customers, provide better customer service – it’s food as a service, not food as a commodity.”

The idea isn’t just to give the little guy a hand up, but to completely shift the way the food system operates. “We need more small farming, more sustainable agriculture,” says Rye. “We waste a lot of our food, and lose a lot of nutrition when veggies are sitting in cold storage for two weeks. We need to relocate our food systems – and we’re providing that digital infrastructure.”

Since its soft launch in 2011, it’s made a splash around the world, attracting attention from Fast Company and Springwise, plus clients in the UK, Australia, Mexico, Germany and Croatia.

But why all this effort to coddle small farmers? They’re the ones saving the world – or at least our soil and water quality, points out Rye. They tend to be organic or can more easily make the switch. They grow a wide variety of species, which tends to be better for soil health, and controls pests without the need for spray.

Supermarkets might be full of monocultures (single varieties) but small farmers grow different, ugly, weird kinds. Plants can go extinct too, so there’s concern over losing ‘heirloom’ varieties – species that have adapted over thousands of years to a certain location and climate. If one variety takes over, the minute a disease turns up, you lose it all. (In the 1950s, everyone ate Gros Michel bananas – until Panama disease wiped them out. Now we all eat the Cavendish variety. What could possibly go wrong?)

And, let’s be honest, it’s fun to eat avocados that look like bowling balls, hideously bulbous tomatoes, purple carrots and bitter-skinned grapes with sweet centres. (You can’t get those grapes these days unless they grow wild. Not enough people like the bitter skin.) But right now, only one to two percent of the groceries we buy come from small producers or farmers’ markets.

That’s why this year Bucky Box launched the Local Food Startup Challenge. After speaking to a couple of hundred local food distributors, Rye discovered they needed five main things to really get momentum: “the IT structure, which we can provide, solid banking, business support, capital funding, some publicity”. Startups that sign up for the challenge get all these things free, and on August 6, whoever’s completed the most deliveries is declared the winner.

“It’s about getting more local food distribution happening,” says Rye. “We needed something to encourage people to start up and get to a sustainable, profitable level of distribution faster.”

They’ve had interest from around 20 groups, and this is just the beginning. Interest in local food is rising globally, and Rye says the team will be travelling to Europe, North America, Australia and China later this year to launch the challenge there.

“Around the world, people are trying to get closer to farming, closer to their food.”