Written by Andrew Seale
There are cracks in the system and NIKU Farms is making sure the light gets in. They’re trying to make sense of the disconnect, the stories we’re told about meat and the realities of how it’s raised, how it’s cared for and, ultimately, the animal’s story before it ends up on our plate.
“We're trying to change a broken system,” says Jake Goldberg, who co-founded the platform with Luke Armstrong. NIKU Farms connects consumers with local, small-scale farms to purchase hormone-free, ethically raised meat. “It's really hard to do, it takes a lot of effort to create educational content and educate people about shopping in a different way.”
Goldberg says he came up with the concept after taking a year off work to travel. He found himself eating less meat and thinking more about food systems. The biggest question he was left with is how we got so far removed from where our food comes from, a disconnect he suspected he could solve with technology.
So he and a former colleague Armstrong created NIKU Farms. The concept is straightforward: consumers go on the website and sign up for either a subscription – which gives them the choice of two different boxes of meat from one of the seven partner farms, and they choose the frequency with options to customize what’s in the box – or they can order a one-off sampler package from one of the farmers. The farms mail out the packages directly to the consumers.
Armstrong likens it to an online farmer’s market. But NIKU Farms, which is a part of Ryerson University’s Social Ventures Lab, veers strongly towards the socially and environmentally-responsible side of things. The packaging is all compostable and recyclable and the products in the boxes ensure as much of the animal as possible is being used to minimize food waste.
“At the end of the day we wanted this to be a concept that made sense for farmers,” says Goldberg. “We’re making sure farms receive their fair share of the revenue for every dollar of customer spend in the commercial supply chain.”
Storytelling is also an important part of NIKU’s approach to business. They have a podcast which features interviews with everyone from neuroscientists and wellness chefs working with high-performance athletes to naturopathic doctors and farmers. “It's really to create a conversation around sustainable agriculture and food and relevant industries that align with us,” says Goldberg. “We try to connect those dots and learn from it and tell other people's stories.”
Currently, NIKU Farms is focused on Toronto and the GTA. But Armstrong says it’s a scalable model in that it can work in “any other major city that has a decent infrastructure, supply chain around it where you can use a third-party courier to bring the product closer to where people live and create the same connection with different farms.”
Ultimately, that's what it's about: connection. Because understanding that connection can help consumers make choices that will lessen their environmental impact. “Our whole goal is to serve the local economy from the local economy,” says Goldberg.
Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)