What started as a hobby for Dan Adams has blossomed into a full-time job.
In 2011, Adams started what was essentially a social network for backyard and small-time farmers called Earthineer. People could sign up like they would for Facebook, create a profile and connect with other growers in their region.
The website became populated with how-to and informational articles such as “How to Butcher a Chicken” or “What are Pigeon Peas: Information for Growing Pigeon Pea Seeds.” It also became a place where members could swap seeds and trade excess products.
“I’m trying to take a new approach to the old-world bartering,” Adams said. “As the season starts, people can put in ‘These are the things I’m growing,'” and take orders in advance of the harvest.
Adams and his wife Leah Adams keep bees, sheep, chickens, turkeys and a garden on about 10 acres of property in rural Kentucky about equidistant from Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati, he said.
Earthineer is targeted to people like the Adams who mostly farm for personal use but have food products left over.
After being laid off in the recession, Adams was struggling to find steady work; that’s when he started taking Earthineer more seriously.
He received a $30,000 grant from the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. (KSTC) as well as investment from investor group Bluegrass Angels and its president Chris Young; Tony Schy, former managing director for Velocity in Southern Indiana; and Ben Self, co-founder of West Sixth Brewing in Lexington.
The investment has allowed Adams to make Earthineer his full-time gig and redesign the website, which has about 43,000 members in the United States.
Now, he is taking the website a step further with a complete redesign and launch in Louisville. Although there are members from around the United States, Adams has not focused on growing any one specific region until now, with Louisville being the first.
“I felt like Louisville has an much stronger local food scene (than Lexington or Cincinnati),” he said. “It seemed like a natural fit.”
In order for Earthineer to work, there need to be plenty of members within a set region or ZIP code to allow for sufficient buying and trading opportunities.
“We need to build up a density of people,” said Adams.
This year, he has been laying the groundwork by reaching out to local businesses and growers about his plans.
There is not a specific launch date for the new website — some time in early 2016. Adams is privately raising $500,000 for the project and has raised $200,000 of that already, he said.
People can sell a variety of items on Earthineer, not just tomatoes or zucchini plucked right from a garden. For example, Adams said, local coffee shops can offer grounds to farmers to use or someone can make zucchini bread from zucchini in their garden and sell that.
Earthineer is about “food, farm and sustainability,” he said. It’s about reusing waste or potentially wasted products.
“We want this (website to be) content, plus community, plus commerce,” Adams said. “If we wanted to just build a marketplace, it wouldn’t be enough because local food is about relationships.”