How Square Roots is Working to Get Americans to Trust Their Food Again

Square Roots | 12.18.18

Starting today, on all Square Roots food packaging, consumers can now see the complete story of where and how their food was grown, and who grew it, with a simple #knowyourfarmer scan.

Square Roots using QR codes to provide transparency into their supply chain.

Simply scan a Square Roots package to get the complete story of where and how your food is grown, and who grows it. You can try it here for our beautiful basil by pointing your iOS camera app at the QR code above.

Where does your food come from?

Many of us are at the mercy of Industrial Food. It’s a system optimized for transportation, not for taste or nutrition. Products are often shipped in from thousands of miles away, taking weeks or even months to get to the store. There is little information on where exactly the food comes from, how it was grown, or who grew it. And as we have seen recently with the Romaine Lettuce recall, the total lack of transparency makes Industrial Food impossible to trust.

Today, Square Roots launches a super-simple way for you to see exactly where, when, and how your food is grown, and also who grows it — bringing a totally new level of transparency into the food supply chain.

Customer scans Square Roots QR code to find Transparency Timeline.

Customer scans Square Roots QR code to find out how their food was grown and who grew it.

By simply scanning a QR code or typing in the lot number found on every package of Square Roots fresh produce, you are now able to see the complete story of where and how your food was grown and who grew it — tracing the entire path from seed-to-store. You can scan the codes above to get the full story for Square Roots products that are on shelves today.

Why are we launching the Transparency Timeline?

Consumers across the world are demanding greater transparency into where and how their food is grown — and with good reason. As mentioned above, this past Thanksgiving, another ecoli outbreak resulted in the recall of all romaine lettuce grown in the US. This was the third such outbreak in the last two years. It put millions of consumers at major risk of foodborne illnesses. The situation was compounded by opaque supply chains in the Industrial Food System, making it ridiculously difficult to accurately trace the source of guilty pathogens. To their credit, the big lettuce producers did eventually react, and agreed to start labeling their products with a mark of the state in which their products are grown. But that’s not enough. Consumers demand — and deserve — to know more.

Square Roots indoor controlled climate farms are less susceptible to pests and pathogens than outdoor farms.

Square Roots indoor controlled climate farms are less susceptible to pests and pathogens than outdoor farms.

Indoor climate-controlled farming as an industry has many advantages when it comes to minimizing the risk of such outbreaks. Square Roots’ distributed, modular farm network reduces that risk even further. And now, by providing this new level of transparency, Square Roots customers can enjoy our products not just because they taste great and are grown hyper-locally, but also because they come with the comfort and confidence of being able to see exactly how and where your food was grown and who grew it.

Where does this transparency data come from?

For those not familiar with Square Roots, we are an indoor urban farming company headquartered in Brooklyn, NYC. We grow a range of delicious herbs and distribute them directly to retail stores across the city within 24 hours of harvest. At the heart of Square Roots is our unique Next Gen Farmer Training Program, which provides a much needed launchpad for young people to enter the farming industry. We grow food using a hydroponic technique that requires 90% less water than conventional agriculture. Meanwhile, our farms are constructed inside refurbished shipping containers, each with its own programmable climate. This means Square Roots grows food with precision 365 days a year, with zero need for pesticides.

Training the next generation of leaders in the food industry inside Square Roots Farms.

Training the next generation of leaders in the food industry inside Square Roots Farms.

Our end-to-end system is supported by software that enables us to monitor and control every aspect of the process. Our technology stack also surrounds our farmers with data, tools, and insights to help them make smart decisions in real time, so they can grow as much food as possible using the fewest resources possible.

To help us develop even more efficient models over time, we capture and analyze a multitude of data points during the process of growing food. We’re now starting to surface that data for our customers with this first release of the “transparency timeline”. In other words, we haven’t had to invent new business processes and SOPs to make this happen — we’re just exposing the data we already capture. In future versions, based on talking with our customers at our many in-store demos and getting their feedback, we can add many more elements to the story of your food. This could include data about the specific climate that your food was grown in, all the way to recycling information relevant to the packaging on the product you just bought. If you would like to see any other information added to the timeline, just let us know.

Setting the standard for transparency in food.

There’s a lot of excitement right now from Big Food companies about how blockchain technology is going to provide the transparency that consumers crave in food. We’re optimistic on that long term vision, and we know many of the people working hard on blockchain solutions right now. But the reality is that initial implementations, while heavily buzzword-compliant, have been distinctly underwhelming in terms of the information they provide.

“What people want to know is where and how was my food grown, and who grew it?”

What people want to know, simply, is where and how was my food grown and who grew it? With that information, they can make their own informed choices about whether to trust the food and whether to buy it.

The irony of the blockchain buzz is that, architecturally, and when implemented correctly, it could be a neat solution to provide traceable information about industrially-produced food, which can travel for weeks to get to the consumer while passing through multiple vendors performing multiple processing steps along the way. But, increasingly, consumers are turning towards local real food they can trust, precisely because there are fewer steps in the supply chain.

Square Roots' supply chain versus the industrial food systems' supply chain.

Is blockchain a new solution for the old food system?

At Square Roots, for example, all our products are sold at retail stores within four miles of our farm, and we own every step from seed to shelf; there are no third parties or handoffs along the way. As we scale, we will keep building local farms in the same neighborhood as the consumers — so we can always own the supply chain end to end. As it happens, our data is structured to be easily accepted by a partner’s blockchain should we ever chose to work with an industrial scale distributor or retailer who demanded it in the future. But the reality is that we, like many local farmers, don’t need to utilize blockchain architecture to give the consumer what they want today — total transparency, without the buzzword BS.

Sounds great! How do I get started?

As well as growing delicious herbs, one of Square Roots’ aims is to help people get more connected to their local farm. That’s why we chose to build our first farm in the middle of New York City — just a subway ride away for over 8 million people to come and visit. If you’ve been unable to attend one of our monthly farm tours, where you can see for yourself how our food is grown and meet the farmers who grow it, you can now use your mobile phone to open up a world of information about how it’s done. Just scan a Square Roots product at any one of our partner retail stores, and let us know you think! Or if you want to quickly see what we’re talking about, scan the QR code on the picture below, which is from a package of our basil available in stores today!

Square Roots Transparency Timeline QR code.

This article was originally published by Kimbal Musk on December 19, 2018.

Thank you to Mike Lee (@mikel_ee) for his thoughts while we were building this feature.

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