Michael Ray Robinov, co-founder of Farm to People (pictured at headquarters in Brooklyn, New York), is a travel agent of sorts. The web site is a virtual supermarket of neighborhood food purveyors and producers. And, when you travel through it, you discover chow not easily found anywhere, providing a culinary tour of America, from Berkeley, California to Bushwick, New York.
Michael was inspired, not only by healthy farming, food processing and eating, but also by a sense of adventure and discovery of the new: “The idea of Farm To People is to create a marketplace where conscious consumers can both discover and have access to products that they can't find anywhere else! We want to introduce people to new flavors, brands and foods from around the country and invite them to travel virtually through our website enjoying products from Brooklyn to California and from Austin to Portland. Before the internet, a lot of these products were not accessible nationwide… we have been able to build a platform that helps makers grow their audience without the costliness of distributors and middle men.”
Michael's mentor and partner, David Robinov, is both his Father and a pioneer in the natural food business. Michael attended the progressive Waldorf School on Manhattan's Upper West side. His experiences there and at the Hawthorne Valley Farm, which has a Waldorf School on the farm in Columbia County, New York, helped to plant the seeds of the venture. Farm to People continues to grow at a fast pace with more and more producers wanting to be part of the homegrown network.
Somalian refugee, Hawa Hassan, founder of Basbaas in Brooklyn, NY. Basbaas makes exotic sauces including Taramid Date and condiments such as Coconut, Cilantro Chutney.
Farm to People initially focused on food producers in Michael's hometown, New York City, and the neighboring Northeast. His thinking was to tap into a local, regional audience that could not easily access these special hand crafted products produced locally with limited distribution. He sourced food based on five standards: locally crafted, non GMO, no artificial anything, humanely raised and small batch.
Soon after start up, they quickly realized that many orders were coming from customers far and wide who wanted to experience food from other places. It quickly became clear that curious eaters from all over the country were interested to sample food products originating in Brooklyn or other parts of the Northeast. Buyers also sought gifts for friends and family living in other places.
Brooklyn Based Anarchy In A Jar makes products with a unique blend of ingredients, many originating from nearby Hudson Valley.
A very cool thing provided by Farm to People are the profiles of the colorful people behind the local palates, the characters behind the cheese and charcuterie. Surfing through the Farm to People web site is intoxicating. When you read the stories behind the food, it makes you want to pull up a stool at the coffee bar in that bakery in Portland, or pull the plug-in hybrid over at the Wisconsin farm making cheese to die for.
So, I give fair warning to all you snacking "snoop dogs" of the world. Unless you are ready to pull out your credit card, don't "wake and bake" then go on line at Farm to People. At least not until the "bake" wears off. Of course, proceed full speed ahead if you want some Bacon Marmalade from Pennsylvania or Blackberry Walnut Jam from California. How about a blueberry- elk salami from Indiana that "will send you into a cured meat frenzy"?
My stoner references are not meant to disparage the serious nature of sustainable and healthy food, i.e. creating transparency about where our food comes from and how it is made. These are issues close to my heart, literally. And, after an hour long talk with Michael Ray Robinov, it is clear he is a young man on a mission. He is as passionate about food as he is about climate change and halting the use of herbicides and pesticides that are wreaking havoc on our bodies and environment.
Michael was only 14 years old when "An Inconvenient Truth" was released in 2006. Over the past ten years he has seen how climate change and environmental issues have grown from whispers on the world porch to a head seat at the table. At the same time, interest in food has also exploded. I asked him where all this advocacy for food and the environment emanated from. He reflected: “Both food and the environment have become very personal to all of us in the last few years. We are experiencing climate change closer and closer to our homes and we are watching our children and friends suffer from allergies to soy, gluten or nuts at levels that we’ve never seen before. All of this is totally heightening our consciousness and making us all reflect on how we can change our diets as well as how we live?"
Speaking with Michael made me feel good about the future of healthy food and a healthy planet. If he is representative of his generation, there is reason to be optimistic, despite the current bumpy ride. To lighten the conversation, I asked him if he had any special addictions regarding the tasty treats they sell and he laughed: "Yeah, two floors down from our office in Brooklyn is Legally Addicted, which makes Crack Cookies!" (This favorite indulgence is created by combining crispy, salty crackers with dark chocolate, gooey caramel, brown sugar and vanilla.)
Neha Patel in Portland Oregon, Masala Pop owner and snack master. Neha and her crew make Indian spiced popcorn using flavors such as Coconut Curry and Tamarind Sesame.
One of the best things about traveling is discovering that singular neighborhood store or product that blends local, farm fresh ingredients to create tasty, small batches of something distinctively divine. These are the places the local foodies-in-the-know go to because it just doesn't get any better. For instance, when in Seattle, search out Skillet. They handcraft insanely flavorful concoctions like Thai Coconut Pumpkin Ketchup to serve with their famous street food. (And, they still serve on the street from their original Air Stream trailer even though they are now a burgeoning restaurant and food business.)
Chowing down at Undone Chocolate in Washington, D.C.
It's impossible, even for retail giants like Whole Foods, to stock all the exotic foods coming out of the "local" food movement. Luckily, Farm to People puts the whole country on a digital shelf and lets you shop like a local foodie on a bike, from home.
One more fair warning: if you've tied one on at night, get to feeling hungry and can't sleep, you better try and stay off the ipad. If you don't, in a few days you might be receiving a box of goodies like California-grown Tuscan olives, Pinot Gris lollipops, Tipsy Peach Jam (with Irish whiskey) cheddar cheese quinoa puffs and cherry granola bark.
Thanks Farm to People for giving me another reason to stay off line, ahhh...not really.
Some of the products are on the pricey end, but they call them "treats" for a reason. They are hard to resist, but you only live once!
Now where did I put those Crack Cookies from Legally Addicted? Don't tell me you ate the last one again!!!