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Cal Poly students connect SLO Co. farmers with customers as coronavirus disrupts supply chain

Posted at 7:08 AM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 10:08:44-04

A new web-based service developed by a trio of Cal Poly students is connecting consumers with local farmers, who might otherwise struggle due to the coronavirus impact on the food supply chain.

Harvestly features 23 different San Luis Obispo County vendors, including Foss Farm eggs, Saqsuatch Sourdough, and Oliveto Ranch olive oil.

Another one of those vendors is Granpa Rossi's Garden, a small farm near Atascadero that produces tomatoes, squash, and eggs, among other products that garden manager, Gabrielle Rossi, is excited to share.

"Kale, romaine, peas," Rossi said as she walked along the sprouting vines in her modest but fruitful garden.

"We have a lot of tomatoes," Rossi said. "(I'm) getting up super early to harvest so things are super fresh."

The operation may be small, but Rossi and her family are slowly growing a customer base, in an effort to make this a full-time gig.

"That would be our dream, it's our eventual goal, eventual goal for sure," Rossi said.

Like butterflies to her garden, Rossi's budding dream attracted a young entrepreneur.

"That's kind of exactly who we're targeting to work with, they're pretty small and they don't have a ton of customers," Walter Lafky, the founder of Harvestly, said.

Lafky is a sophomore at Cal Poly and the mind behind Harvestly, a web-based service that connects small time producers like Rossi with about 200 customers.

"A lot of these local farmers struggle to make a profit because of a lot of reasons in the ag supply system," Lafky said.

Navigating that supply chain, which often bleeds dry already anemic mom 'n' pop farms, is now more daunting than ever in the age of coronavirus.

"A lot of grocery stores right now, people don't want to go to the grocery or the grocery store doesn't have some produce," Lafky said. "The way we look at it is if we can have the product go to the consumer and the distance only be about 20 miles, we kind of fix that problem."

Consumers place an order via the Harvestly website and the producer fulfills that order. It's then collected by a Harvestly employee and delivered to the customer within one to three days.

For Harvestly's vendors, who keep 90 percent of profits from each sale, the partnership leads business to blossom.

"It's probably doubled the demand, that's for sure," Rossi said. "It's really widened the customer base. It feels really good to get positive reviews on our website about how fresh our products are."

Lafky said his goal is to expand Harvestly across the country. Wherever the service crops up, Lafky said it will always offer exclusively local products.