Technology and Farm Direct Channels: Solving Problems

By: Katie Myhre       Posted On: September 4, 2020

Of all the definitions for technology out there, the one I like the most is “knowledge put into practical use to solve problems or invent useful tools.” In my experience fighting for a regional-based food network, the problems our food communities face have always been the focal point. At center of creating a strong local system is protecting farm profitability while ensuring our communities are fed. When created and implemented thoughtfully, technology can be the medium for “solving” not one, but both, of those challenges.

Technology isn’t just fancy microchips; it’s already everywhere in our lives. Technology is the text message I sent a few days ago to invite friends to dinner. It’s the pasta machine I’ll use this evening to make those same friends dinner. It’s the social media post that reminded me this morning to buy tomatoes, basil, garlic, and flour from my neighborhood market. Technology can set off chain reactions between a variety of interactions, and when the pieces are working together, you just might find yourself with a delicious, albeit socially distant, backyard pasta dinner. 

Farmers markets around the country and world are already relying on technology — from the farmers inventing pepper harvest technology on-farm, to the market managers implementing online vendor application forms. Technology can simplify complex processes and facilitate connections. These tech-based improvements enhance and protect our ability to do the inherently non-technological, human-centric act of convening a bustling marketplace. 

Working at the market before COVID.

My name is Katie Myhre, and as the new Farm Direct Technology Manager with Farmers Market Coalition, my vision is to support the relationship between farmers, markets, and consumers and the technologies that can foster positive growth when communities come together around food. I’ve spent the last seven years working with farmers, farmers’ markets, small business owners and food system advocates, and the need for appropriate technology has pervaded each aspect of my own advocacy for strong food networks. In my experience, much like many of the issues we face, the challenges that “technology” presents have nearly always had to do with disproportionate access and historic denial to its benefits — cost, comfort, specificity, and more. Our communities deserve access not just to technology for the sake of technology, but to the right technology that will support connections between communities and their farmers. 

By now, we all surely know the quote: “the master’s tools don’t dismantle the master’s house.” Audre Lorde’s wisdom tells us that only by embracing what sets us apart from our competition of big ag, corporate food control, and centralized supply chains, can we unlock our true potential as a coalition. Our food movement is reaching a moment in history when we have the skills and values — and more importantly, the community ownership — in place to build the proper tools ourselves. Together, then, we can decide the thoughtful applications of tech as a movement, remembering that any solution can’t be one-size fits all. I believe that the potential for technology to provide real benefits to farmers and families is worth the effort it has taken to this point and will require to organize around its specific development.

Within the scope of technology, my role with FMC will focus on the possibilities of improving SNAP/EBT/credit/debit in markets, CSAs and direct-to-consumer farm businesses. My goal is to relieve some of the difficulties existing technology presents for consumers, markets and farmers. I plan to fight for better funding, better understanding of market operator challenges, and wider adoption of the right technologies. We all have different relationships with technology, but we’ll do this together. What hasn’t worked well for your markets, or your business models? What opportunities could SNAP/EBT technology bring, and what’s preventing your market from implementing it? I’m here to listen, find answers, and advocate for the very relationships that are fostered through increased connectivity and increased consumer choice — through technology.