“I don’t really look like it, but I’m a bit of a hippie,” Matt Gomez explains over the phone. As founder and CEO of Soil Mate, an online directory that connects consumers with their local farmers, his hippie status is in no need of defense. Gomez’s company quickly grew from its small Kelowna roots, sprouting listings from all Canadian provinces and American states within just six months of its 2014 launch. The service works like this: say a resident in Vancouver wants microgreens, but does not know where to find the best, locally-sourced options. She simply goes to the Soil Mate website or app, picks her area, and searches her desired item—and just like that, she is shown all her nearby farmers, or local vendors certified by farmers.
Gomez, who grew up in an industrial British city in a home laden with packaged foods and low on fresh fruit and vegetables, recognized the importance of good nutrition when he had children of his own. “I started learning about pesticides, and I didn’t want to give that to my kids,” he says. “I started looking into supporting local farmers more.” Gomez began getting to know Kelowna growers, realizing the importance of building relationships to gain access to good food. From there, he took his skills from working in marketing and began applying them to this new venture.
“When we first started, a lot of associations and farmers weren’t so interested in working with us,” he recalls. “Not exactly a suspicious mentality, but building those relationships was really important.” Essential to that is trust, and it became a key element when Soil Mate started listing not only farmers and farmers’ markets—relatively easy to find if they are local—but also restaurants, breweries, wineries, and other food and beverage vendors in 2015. “The local movement, like the organic and green movement before, it has a lot of consumer value. A restaurant may claim local, but the products all aren’t really,” Gomez says, citing a McDonald’s campaign that advertised Canadian beef.
While the term “farm to plate” feels now like a cliché marketing tool, employing the ideology is anything but tired. “To me, local is more than just the geographics. It’s about values, transportation, all of the elements,” says Gomez. For a restaurant or vendor to be verified and put on the Soil Mate map, the company ensures that each one adheres to these standards. “They have to be verified by the farm that they buy from,” explains Gomez. “So there is a clear accountability to the system, and it’s controlled by the farmer.” Good for the planet, good for dinner: hippie values even yuppies can get behind.