Calgary Herald


Site matches farmers, buyers


TORONTO — In a nod to social networking sites that make love connection­s between people, the new site Soil Mate is hoping to kindle passion between consumers and their local food producers.

People who want to know where their food and drink are coming from can now connect with farmers, farmers’ markets and wineries using the new farmto-table social networking site. In turn, farmers and producers can market themselves and interact with their community. The site is free. Matt Gomez found the need for such a site when he “couldn’t find local produce in a way that was convenient for me, not necessaril­y trudging into the farmers’ market by a certain time every Saturday to get what I needed. I was looking online to try and find real simple informatio­n, basically what was available in the area, how it was grown, where I could buy it and when I could get it and that was really all I needed. My impetus was that I had little kids.”

He had settled in Kelowna, B.C., in 2008 with his new wife after growing up in Luton, England, and found that living in the community, coupled with the birth of their two children — now age three and one — made him more concerned about their food.

“I became more aware once I was here because it’s more of an agricultur­al region and started to see that connection and over time start to learn about some of the more fashionabl­e issues like GMO (geneticall­y modified) crops and any pesticide use to some of the more political pieces like the distance travelled and treatment of migrant workers, all of the different pieces that go into the food security.

“I became aware of all that sort of stuff and made some changes and tried to find stuff online to buy local produce and then I had kids and I couldn’t be so blase about it.”

With his background in online marketing, he decided to quit his job, seek investment and founded Soil Mate.

Consumers logging on to the site find farms and markets within a 160-kilometre radius, directions and hours. People can sort by crop, organic or nonGMO, and in some cases can or- der directly from the farm.

“The whole crux of it is to be non-political, non-judgment based, not pushing any agenda, just presenting all the informatio­n and you make your own decisions,” the 31-year-old explained.

“If organic is something that’s important to you, then you can find organic. If you don’t really care, you just care more about the farmer’s story, then read their profile.”

Since unofficial­ly launching to farmers and markets in the spring, Soil Mate has participat­ion in all Canadian provinces, the Yukon and in 40 U.S. states.

“What we’re finding is a massive adoption rate when farmers find us ... we actually have a 95 per cent sign-up rate. The issue is just actually getting the system in front of them. I wouldn’t say it’s a no-brainer. Farmers have options, right? Directorie­s have been shoved down their throats for years. It’s just no one’s really created a good directory. They can be a little bit jaded on it. ...

“Once you start to explain the concept of Soil Mate and how it’s different from literally every other system out there and how it’s helpful and how it doesn’t have much of an impact on them from a time perspectiv­e. We did focus groups as well so we actually had farmers help us develop it, so we knew they’d actually use it and update it and all that sort of stuff.”

Alan Gatzke, whose grandfathe­r began farming on the site of what is now Gatzke Orchards in 1929, took part in the developmen­t process.

“Matt talked to me early on about the needs on our farm from a marketing perspectiv­e and then he told me about his desire and passion and what he would like to accomplish with it.

“I’ve been involved with agricultur­e and various agribusine­ss firms and I haven’t been in a situation where they actually came and spoke to me at the design stage” nor did they encompass all aspects of his business, he said from Oyama in the Okanagan.

Gomez plans to devote 10 per cent of gross revenue to projects like arranging for schoolchil­dren to visit farms and teaching people how to use produce through cooking lessons. His longer-term goal is to buy and lease land at “ultralow” rates to people who want to farm.

 ?? Jennifer Schell/The Canadian Press ?? Matt Gomez is founder and CEO of Soil Mate, which matches area farmers with area consumers.
Jennifer Schell/The Canadian Press Matt Gomez is founder and CEO of Soil Mate, which matches area farmers with area consumers.
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