COLLABORATIVE PIONEER: AN INSIDE INTERVIEW WITH ALISTAIR MARTIN, FOUNDER OF RIPENEARME

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Alistair Martin is the founder of RipeNear.Me,  a platform that allows users to share, sell and swap produce that they grow. In this interview, Alistair talks about his platform and the joys of being able to access homegrown produce.

What sets RipeNear.me apart from other similar platforms? Does it have any unique features?

Yes! There are several things that make RipeNearMe unique:

First, we encourage people to participate in the food system. Anyone who grows food can list their produce to share, swap or sell (selling homegrown produce in and of itself is quite unique). It could be a pot of herbs, a rooftop beehive, or a thriving backyard orchard. No matter the scale, you and I can be urban farmers and provide an ultra-local food alternative to our neighbourhood, while finding others nearby who do the same. Why not shake the hand of the person who grew your tomatoes, and pick them off the plant rather than a supermarket shelf?

Second, 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.

Third, RipeNearMe isn’t just a map or directory – it’s a social network. The site includes the ability forge friendships online and offline, and share in your friend’s foraging and growing activity.

Fourth, it’s easy and fun to use!

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What would success look like for RipeNear.me? Paint a picture of RipeNear.me in its ideal state:

We want to see urban spaces utilized for growing food, and see that food grown is consumed (not wasted). Every city and town around the world has the ability to feed itself to some degree. What if 20% of our food came from within the city limits? Urban agriculture is on the rise, and homegrown food is quite possibly some of the tastiest and most nutrient dense of them all.

What has been missing is the marketplace that makes it possible for my kale to reach your kitchen table. Or for your chicken eggs to become my breakfast. RipeNearMe provides that marketplace, and has the potential to change how the world sees food.

Success for us is shaking up the food system, by creating a fairer, fresher alternative. Byproducts of that success will be reduced food miles, increased biodiversity through heirloom seed sharing (something we’re working on improving), and scientific data on seasonality for the many edible plants in various climates and locations around the world – very helpful in our changing climate.

What is your business model eg. do you plan to monetise the platform?

Yes, our goal is to have RipeNearMe become a self-sustaining social enterprise. We have several strategies for doing that, which may include “pro” features for local farmers, service provider directories, affiliates, and many more innovative ideas on the table.

Any monetisation strategies will not directly impact general site users. In other words, there will always be free membership on RipeNearMe.

What challenges are you facing in progressing RipeNear.me?

Our biggest challenges are awareness and resources. Our service relies on having sufficient members in any one location to facilitate the exchange of produce. Awareness includes getting our message out to the public, and also encouraging users to post what they grow.

Resources (capital) is our second major challenge. We’re entirely self-funded thus far. We’ve recently started a crowdfunding campaign, and if successful that will help us tremendously. In the future we may look to raise venture capital.

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What three things do you most need right now?

First, we need support for our crowdfunding campaign. We’ve got great rewards lined up, and every dollar counts towards growing our community and developing the features that will attract new people. Visit our campaign page and pledge support here.

Second, we need help to combat empty maps – add your produce now. You don’t need to have fruit, nuts, veg or herbs to share right away. 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.

Third, we need to get the word out that a new food system is in town. Social media has been a driving force for our growth so far, so having people raise awareness of RipeNearMe (and this article) through Twitter, Facebook and social media will give us a boost. More people on RipeNearMe equates to more food on the map, which in turn means food everywhere. And that’s our goal; food everywhere, grown by anyone, for sharing, swapping or sale.

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