Caithrin Rintoul, or as he prefers ‘Cai’, is on a mission to communicate with all the farms in Canada. “The internet has yet to index farms,” he explains, adding that while the digital revolution has been rampant in the nation’s cities many rural areas are just coming online with high speed connections and the predominant mode of communications among the growers he works with has been text messages.
Based in Montreal, but with offices in Toronto, the company Rintoul leads, Provender, seeks to connect farmers with restaurants and food businesses near them. Not a radical idea, at least not anymore since there are a number of distributors in big cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver who specialize in local food. What’s different about Provender, Rintoul told me over coffee recently, is the scale and scope of the project.
Rintoul’s company doesn’t actually deliver anything, he leaves that to the “3PL’s”, he explained. Then, he explained to me that “3PL” means third party logistics companies, which in his view already do a very good job of transporting things. The problem Provender seeks to solve is finding the things. And that, one farm at a time, is what he is doing right now.
By combing through and analysizing as much data about participating farms as possible, from sources like tax returns and seed orders, Rintoul’s company hopes to map supply and demand for local food. On the other end, Provender looks at what restaurants need from the farms over the course of a year. He sees a future where chefs create a sort of mini-futures market on a network of farms, buying fall crops before the seeds have been planted in the spring.
Rintoul claims recruiting farms and restaurants has been going well, and that a new generation of farmers are moving away from the old commodity crops and looking to grow other things to sell to nearby markets. “If we are serious about local food systems,” Rintoul said, “then we need to find ways to make it exciting and interesting for farmers to diversify”.