By Margot Cumming

Tim Flores has a passion for local food, but it hasn’t always been that way. The co-founder of a new app called Grazin was once overweight and unhealthy, but in 2011 he realized it was time to make a change. Inspired by the bestselling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Flores started to shift his focus to healthy eating, which led him to the local food scene.

Being a “locavore,” as many in the movement have started to call themselves, means eating food grown and sourced locally. It is currently a complex world of food co-ops, overly busy farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture programs. It is hard for consumers to find farms to buy from directly, and even harder to find local produce in stores.

In his first venture into local food, Flores worked with a local farmer through a website that was self-produced and not intuitive. The farmer’s customers struggled to work through the website to get the products. Flores saw a problem that he could fix.

“Farmers have websites, but many lack friendly interfaces. They are poorly designed, and virtually non-functional,” Flores said. “I realized I could make things better for this guy and other farmers. That’s the idea that became Grazin.”

Grazin is a phone and tablet application that has launched to link Madison area consumers directly with local farmers.

“We wanted to connect the consumers directly to the farmers,” Flores said. “We’re just trying to reconnect consumers with clean, fresh and local food.”

Grazin will be a multi-functional platform, allowing consumers to search, not only by food, but by farm. Customers will be able to virtually choose their food and pay for it, all within the app.

“After seeing the poorly designed websites of many individual farmers, I realized that if I could build an online marketplace for the agricultural sector – say like Ebay or Amazon – that would be really valuable for farmers and consumers who want an easier way to get local food,” Flores said.

The app will start with a small database of farmers in the Madison area, and expanding to more than 60 farms by the end of the year. Flores and his team plan to start small, but they have big plans for expansion – to areas surrounding Madison, to Chicago, and to the west coast.

On starting small, Flores said: “Ultimately it has to work well for the farmers; we want to roll it out slowly to make sure it can be successful.”

And the farmers are just as excited about this as the consumers. Flores at a recent organic farm conference was hunted down by many people interested in joining Grazin. He soon recognized that many perceptions about farmers being old fashioned and unwilling to use technology, are out of date and completely wrong.

“Farmers are business people,” Flores says, “and they recognize this as a new outlet for their product. I told them ‘I’ll handle the software and you handle the rest!’”

After turning to an active and healthy lifestyle, Flores sees the value of using local food.  Grazin was a semi-finalist in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which culminates June 7-8 during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Madison.

Cumming is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.