Student business connects local farmers directly with restaurants
RED Food is a new local food initiative that has accrued $50,000 in business capital in the last few months, won several awards at entrepreneurial competitions, and is working to improve the business of dozens of farmers and restaurateurs in the Twin Cities area.
And its founders still sleep in dorm rooms.
St. Olaf College students Malika Dale ’16 and Katie Myhre ’16 are the founders of RED Food, an online food-sourcing infrastructure that links farmers interested in selling their produce to buyers in restaurants. They most recently won $25,000 from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s Seed Fund award.
RED Food (the RED stands for “Restaurants Eat Direct”) was born last year when Myhre identified the problem of ineffective infrastructure for communication and transportation between farmers and clients during an Interim independent research project at St. Olaf. She worked with Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Kathy Shea to create the project, learning about the Twin Cities food system through interviews and literature review.
“My goal for RED Food is to fill an immediate gap in our local food system,” Myhre says. “If RED can fill this gap by connecting local farmers to restaurants, we can decrease food waste while increasing the viability of small-scale farmers, and ultimately increase access to local food.”
The RED Food website is simple: farmers log on and list their products, and restaurants log on and purchase them in a way similar to most online “shopping cart” experiences. The site creates an open market and allows easy communication between farmers and buyers. RED also coordinates a rideshare that enables farmers to share delivery responsibility.
St. Olaf students Camille Morley ’15 and Annie Nguyen ’16 assisted with the business venture, which went on to win the Ole Cup, an annual student entrepreneurial competition hosted by the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career. Associate Director of Entrepreneurship Roberto Zayas and Entrepreneur in Residence Sian Muir were also instrumental in supporting the project.
“When we started, our goal was to make a website and have fun and help some people out,” Dale says. “And as this has grown and we’ve accrued a lot more funding, I think our goals are really to disrupt the currents of food-sourcing and transportation models, and make something way more convenient and personable.”
They hope to eventually grow this promising start-up to multiple cities if they identify a need.
For now, Myhre and Dale are doing everything they can to transition to working full time as soon as they graduate.
Balancing work commitments with school has often proven challenging. There are several client meetings planned for the next few weeks, which can be overwhelming when paired with the already considerable stresses of senior year of college.
“We are already beyond projections for first year, which is a good problem to have, but we’re under a lot of stress,” Dale says. “Over the summer we were able to respond to things the next day and keep charging ahead, but today I have four things due and I know I’m not going to be able to respond to RED emails until tomorrow at the earliest.”
Despite these challenges, the work has been very rewarding. For Dale and Myhre, it is the personal connections that make RED Food so meaningful.
“We want to go in with a sincere attitude and treat everyone as a friend, not a money-maker,” Dale says. She shared a story of a woman who, because of RED’s work, was able to break even on her farm for the first time in years. “It was so rewarding just to see her relief, to see how this is affecting her and her granddaughter. We helped her solve her own problem.”
Myhre agrees. “The people we’ve met and the community we’ve been welcomed into along the way have been incredible,” she says. “RED is trying to create meaningful change in our community; people are quick to encourage and support us because they see that creating this kind of change is extremely difficult, but extremely important.”