French-born Juliette is the Co-founder of CROWDFARMING, www.crowdfarming.com.
CrowdFarming is a marketplace that helps Farmers sell directly and in total transparency to end consumers who receive the products at their doorstep.
Buying food directly from farmers is the most powerful everyday act available to anyone to create a positive social and environmental impact.
”They did not know it was impossible so they did it”
Dear Juliette, thank you so much for taking the time to tell about your exciting and unique concept; CrowdFarming. A sustainable and environmental way of reducing food waste, reducing and CO 2.
Before we talk about the concept, let’s just dive into Juliette, to get to know you a little better!
Lisbeth: Please tell us a little about you? Where did you grow up and what were your childhood dreams? Did you already have in mind to revolutionize the agricultural world?
Juliette: I had the opportunity with my parents to grow up in various cities in France and abroad. Changing house and school frequently is not always easy but it I am very thankful for this education as it surely made me adaptable and opened my mind.
I did not have in mind to revolutionize the traditional food supply chain as a child. To be honest I went to university without being very sure of what I wanted to do as a job but with the certainty that I wanted to use my time in something meaningful.
My interest for agriculture and the food industry came later on, when I started to realize the injustice of producers working very hard all year long earning low income which do not always cover their costs and when I discovered having real and detailed information on where a product comes from, how it was grown and who did the work was almost impossible in the traditional food supply chain.
Lisbeth: What is your education? And how did you end up in Spain?
Juliette: I studied in France in a business school. When I finished, I entered a graduate program for a global insurance company. I was offered a position in Madrid for six months and I was very happy to accept: I spoke Spanish as I had done an exchange program in Argentina and went to Mexico for an internship but I did not know Spain very well. I loved the city from the first moment (and still do), the six months flew by, I was eager to stay and was very lucky to find a permanent position in the insurance company. This is why from a temporary situation I have now been in Madrid for seven years and a half.
Lisbeth: How did the adventure with CrowdFarming started?
Juliette: It all started when I met two of my current partners in CrowdFarming: Gonzalo and Gabriel Úrculo. About five years ago, I started to think of doing something different from what I did in the insurance company and to see there were opportunities to make changes for better in the food industry.
Talking to some friends about all this, two of them mentioned the ”Naranjas del Carmen” company and the revolution they had launched in Valencia (Spain).
Naranjas del Carmen is a great family story: two brothers inherited in 2010 the orange field of their grand-father but could not maintain it because the oranges were sold below their production cost. They decided to take the risk to keep the orange fields but to change the way they sold the product by creating a direct link with their customers (selling online) all over Europe and to start cultivating with organic standards as it was aligned with their values.
As they were slowly growing they also discovered that consumers were interested in understanding how they grew their oranges, what where the challenges they were facing in the fields etc.
This is why in 2016, in order to plant new trees on their farm, they launched the ”Crowdfarming” initiative: consumers could adopt a tree, receive news and pictures of it and in harvest season get fresh oranges delivered at their doorstep. When I heard of this Naranjas del Carmen initiative, I of course asked to meet Gonzalo and Gabriel!
And it all started like this... At the beginning I helped them on a few projects while maintaining my job and we all saw we worked very well together because we were complementary. I also met Moises (CTO of Naranjas del Carmen and CrowdFarming) at that time and this is how the four of us decided to launch CrowdFarming after many producers from the Valencia area asked us to help them put in place the same model for their farm as that of Naranjas del Carmen.
Lisbeth: Please tell us about the CrowdFarming concept and how it works?
Juliette: CrowdFarming is a marketplace which helps Farmers sell directly and in total transparency to end consumers which receive the products at their doorstep. On the website www.crowdfarming.com you can buy boxes of a product directly from a producer but you can also adopt a tree, a cow, a piece of land and receive the harvest when it is the right moment and the product is ripe. This adoption model is key as it enables the Farmer to plan their production, it ensures them a fair price for their harvest (they decide on the price they put on the website) and it helps them create a relationship with their consumer which can give them direct feedback.
The consumer feels involved thanks to this direct link and knows perfectly how their product was grown and by whom. Finally, thanks to adoptions, we fight against food waste in origin: if an adoption is made, then there is a family waiting to receive the harvest! We are very committed to this fight. The European Union (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20170505STO73528/food-waste-the-problem-in-the-eu-in-numbers-infographic) calculated that about 30% of food is lost during the production and processes phases and an additional 5% occurs during the retail and wholesale process. There is therefore a lot to do to improve these numbers!
Lisbeth: Your farmers propose a lot of different products, most of them organic. What is the criteria for becoming a Farmer?
Juliette: The first criteria for us is that the Farmer is willing to sell directly to end consumers. It may seem obvious but it is a complete change of mind and it is important they are aware of it and motivated to do it. It is also very important the Farmers share our values of looking for a more sustainable way of cultivating and living in general. This is why we have a strong preference for organic Farmers.
One of the achievements we are the most proud of are the Farmers we are helping transition to organic through our model. As you know, going organic can represent high risks for a Farmer as many times it means lowering the production. With the CrowdFarming model, as they decide on their price and as our community of consumers is growing, they feel like they can make this change.
Finally, we also require that the Farmer be able to make about 2000 boxes of their product a year to end consumers because we have seen that, with our current structure, entering CrowdFarming with less volume means a lot of work and may not always be profitable for them (and this is something we do not want to see happening). In the end, getting ready to sell dirctly to consumers is a wonderful experience but represents some work!
Lisbeth: Your farmers come from all over Europe. How many of them are women? Please take us through some of the products?
Juliette: We have lots of Farmers who are women and, more importantly, almost all of our male Farmers work directly with women. If I must choose some specific projects of women I would talk about:
María Martínez from Finca Los Pepones in Malaga (Spain) growing organic avocados and mangos: https://www.crowdfarming.com/es/farmer/finca-los-pepones/up/adopta-un-arbol-de-mango-finca-los-pepones
María Luisa Henriquez Santana from Doña Ana growing citrus fruits in Murcia (Spain) in transition to organic: https://www.crowdfarming.com/es/farmer/dona-ana/up/adoptar-un-naranjo-dona-ana-naranjas-tardias
Valeria Zavadnikova of Montemaggio in Tuscany (Italy) producing chianti wine DOCG: https://www.crowdfarming.com/es/farmer/montemaggio/up/adoptar-cepas-chianti-montemaggio
Sarah Bernhard-Papin of Gabrasrosa from Champagne-Ardenne (France) which prepares organic soap made of goat milk: https://www.crowdfarming.com/es/farmer/gabrasrosa/up/adoptar-una-cabra-gabrasrosa
Linda Becker of Bauer Freigeist in Saxony-Anhalt (Germany) which produces organic cow cheese: https://www.crowdfarming.com/es/farmer/bauer-freigeist/up/adoptar-una-vaca-bauer-freigeist
Lisbeth: You are a fast growing company. 50 % or more of your employees are women, you told me. What role do the employees have in helping the farmers?
Juliette: Actually, I checked the other day and it is now 57%! We are indeed growing very fast and we are very happy to be opening new job positions in spite of the pandemic.
Our employees are in charge of making sure the direct sale of Farmers to the end consumers go smoothly and to make both parties delighted with the experience. We therefore have a dedicated team of agronomists which work hand in hand with the Farmers to help them set up their project and follow up on their sales.
We then have a Logistics and Packaging team dedicated to organizing the best routes from the Farmers’ premises to the end consumer’s doorstep (the best route is the fastest and the less polluting in terms of CO2 emissions).
We then have an IT & Product Management team which ensures that our website and all the applications we developed internally work perfectly.
We have a customer service team dedicated to answering the consumers’ doubts about the Farmers or how our system works and to solve incidents if there are (unfortunately we do have some, even if we are trying our best to avoid it!). And finally we are supported by our Marketing, HR and Finance teams to make our company progress.
Lisbeth: I understand that the logistics of sending food are quite challenging. What kind of problems are you facing? And are there some products you don’t work with for the same reasons?
Juliette: Logistics is one of our key challenge and the fact that we organize the routes for the Farmers makes their life easier. The problems we are facing are common in the direct sale model for food products: we need to make sure the product arrives in perfect conditions at the doorstep of the consumer. We only work with products which we know can survive perfectly the journey. But, in parallel, we are doing R&D to be able to diversify our product offer. Since the launch of CrowdFarming, we never stopped growing our product list!
There are two types of product we do not sell on CrowdFarming but it is not only for logistics reasons: meat and fish.
Lisbeth: What happens if the customer is not home when you deliver? You cannot send the goods back to the producer. How do you handle those situations?
Juliette: This is always a delicate situation. We try to avoid this by sending reminders of the delivery to the consumer and by ensuring they can track their order from the Farmer’s premises. But it happens. When it is a fresh product that could be lost if we tried to send it again to the Farmer we have put in place agreements with local partners to give this product to NGOs so that they can redistribute it and that it does not get lost.
Lisbeth: You’re also very concerned about the packaging and aim to propose a 100% plastic free transport. How do the farmers respect that?
Juliette: The fact that we give the Farmers insights and best practices on packaging is a real added value of CrowdFarming. As we are growing our knowledge base and diversifying the type of products that can be directly ship from the Farm to the end consumer, we make sure it is aligned with our philosophy (i.e. compostable, recyclable, reusable etc.)
Plastic is of course a material we want to avoid at all costs and we help the Farmers find solutions to work with other options if needed. Unfortunately, we have not yet found a replacement to plastic for all products but we are working on it and try to make sure we use BPA-free packaging if plastic is needed.
On the website, the Farmers who are shipping their product with absolutely no plastic (which means that there is no plastic on the box at all) get a specific ”plastic-free” label.
Lisbeth: Where do the customers come from? Are some countries more open to the concept than others?
Juliette: Our consumers come from all over Europe but we have a very strong base in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and the UK.
Lisbeth: Is there a person that inspires you more than others in life?
Juliette: I would not be able to answer to your question as I get inspired by many people every day!
Lisbeth: What is your advice to others who want to live out their dreams?
Juliette: I would probably invite them to never give up and be patient because if you are really looking for something then opportunities show up, even if sometimes not as fast as you hoped.
Lisbeth: Do you have a motto or a saying that guides you?
Juliette: Just as I get inspired by many people, there are many saying that I found insightful. If I only think of the entrepreneurial side, I have to say the sentence of Mark Twain (I think it is from him) ”They did not know it was impossible so they did it” sounds very accurate to me: when you are launching something new, there is a moment when you need to get into the action and do it, knowing you have not mitigated all the risks and that everything could fail. Otherwise you will never begin anything.
Lisbeth: Juliette, you’re a doing a lot of good for a lot of people, please tell us what we can do for YOU?
Juliette: first of all, I want to insist that the the good CrowdFarming is doing for society is something that comes from the entire team, and not only me. As we mentioned earlier people who inspire me, I am very proud to say there are many team members that I look up to! What you can do for us is to that your network keep growing and supporting women trying to make the world a better place for all.
Juliette, thank you so much for sharing this exciting adventure with us and let us have a little glimpse of this unique “tomorrow’s marketplace “.
We wish you all the best for the future and I will list your social medias where people can follow you and hopefully adopt an orange tree or buy a box of “ Tropiterranean “avocados.
We wish you all the best for the future for yourself and Crowdfarming.
With much love,