“I love meat, but I also love knowing where my meat comes from,â€ says Naithan Jones (no relation to Markesha Jones), who grew up in the Kansas City metro area, famed for its steaks and barbecue. Jones is not alone. A growing number of people want their meat raised and produced locally on small farms and ranches, not shipped long distances from mechanized corporate feedlots that finish tens of thousands of livestock at a time.
As the founder of AgLocal, a Web-based marketplace and exchange platform for the buying and selling of pasture-raised and other non-commercially raised meats, Jones wants to change the way people produce and source beef, chicken, and pork. He hopes to empower not only meat eaters, but also restaurant owners with his Twitter-based #EatClear campaign by facilitating a connection between consumers and restaurants.
“What Amazon did for small independent publishers can be applied to agriculture,â€ says Jones, who hopes to provide equal competition in the marketplace for restaurants, distributors, and non-corporate, non-mechanized farms. “[Amazon] immediately enabled small publishers to access larger markets at scale and have all the tools and resources and supply chain to compete for the same eyeballs as the large publishing houses.â€
It’s not difficult to see the value proposition in his idea. The U.S. beef cattle industry alone had a retail equivalent value of $79 billion in 2011 and comprises more than 900,000 operations with cattle and calves, including beef and dairy cattle.
Local farmers in western Kansas and California have been supportive of AgLocal, but so has Silicon Valley. Jones was selected from hundreds of applicants to participate as one of seven resident entrepreneurs in the second NewMe Accelerator class for minority tech entrepreneurs. He has since raised more than $1 million from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, OpenAir Equity Partners, Serious Change, and Artists & Instigators.
Jones, who worked for the Kauffman Foundation structuring the business model for the entrepreneurship education programs used in Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin, Texas, was inspired by his wife’s aunt, a farmer who has a Ph.D. in range management and agronomy and AgLocal’s first investor. But he laments that rural America has suffered a brain drain. “That can’t continue to happen,â€ he says. “We need smart people in rural areas supporting rural innovation, folks that don’t mind sacrificing the city lifestyle to do important work.â€
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