Designing a collaborative online transportation platform for sustainable regional food distribution

Abstract: Regional food systems offer the potential to improve agricultural sustainability and community resilience. However, regional farmers must find ways of expanding their market reach to a larger number of buyers to ensure the survival of their farms. Customers are typically located in urban centers that are geographically distant from farms, and most small-scale farmers do not have the necessary transportation infrastructure in place to support efficient distribution. This paper describes results from a three-year project aimed at increasing the capacity of Texas regional food systems by improving farmers’ access to affordable transportation services. The goal was to develop a cost-effective collaborative online transportation platform that would help regional farmers find suitable transportation providers to make deliveries to urban customers.

The project began by investigating the transportation challenges faced by Texas farmers and ranchers via interviews and focus groups. The resulting data, along with ideas gleaned from a study of existing online transportation platforms, was used to inform the design and development of a transportation app for farmers using Google Appsheet. The resulting app facilitates connections between “senders” (i.e., farmers with products to ship) and “carriers” (i.e., farmers or other people who are willing to provide transportation). The app was piloted with Texas farmers, who tested it and provided feedback on its design and functionality. Most of the feedback was positive and has encouraged ongoing app development, with a goal of small-scale implementation in spring of 2023.

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