Iowa-based ChopLocal was named a top four finalist at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 2023 Ag Innovation Challenge held during the federation’s annual convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico Jan. 6-11.

Following a preliminary competition Jan. 6 that saw 10 initial contestants, ChopLocal of Wayland was selected to compete in the live pitch finals with three other ag businesses for a shot at winning a $35,000 grand prize.  

Earning first-place honors was NORDEF of Kansas, which has developed technology to produce diesel exhaust fluid at point of use, while second-place recognition went to EmGenisys Inc., a Texas company that offers a non-invasive solution to improve pregnancy outcomes of assisted reproductive techniques in livestock.  

The fourth finalist was MycoLogic LLC from Georgia, which developed technology farmers can use to grow larger quantities of mushrooms more efficiently.

Founded in 2020 during the COVID-19 outbreak, ChopLocal is an online marketplace that makes it easy for farmers and butchers to connect with modern meat-eaters across 12 states. The company aims to simplify the process from farm-to-fork, support small businesses and provide the best-tasting meat around.

ChopLocal is a marketplace much like an online farmers market, providing livestock producers and small butcher shops a platform to offer online orders for their customers and market their products.

The company earned $15,000 in prize money during the competition, and while not taking home the top prize, Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Katie Olthoff said the funds are most appreciated as the company works to expand its presence.  They’ll use prize winnings toward software development to improve the product for farmers and consumers.

“We came in as underdogs, so we never thought we would make it to the top four,” Olthoff said.  “The fact that we did … it was just an unreal experience. We’re incredibly honored.”

Sharing their story

Networking and meeting other farmers was a highlight of the Farm Bureau experience, Olthoff said.  

The AFBF Ag Innovation Challenge showcases ideas and business innovations in agriculture, and being able to share the ChopLocal story with others was invaluable, she said.

“Following our first pitch, we had a farmer from New York come up to talk to us about their lamb and goat meat,” Olthoff said.  “There is a growing population looking for those niche meat products that they can’t always find at their grocery stores.

“It’s huge for us to get in front of producers and consumers and tell them about what we’re doing. We think that we do provide something really valuable, and we’re so glad we’ve had this opportunity to share our story and our mission in front of so many people that this directly impacts.”  

Co-founder Jaren Achen added that he especially appreciated the opportunity to convey what ChopLocal provides to others.  

“We want to show the value that we can bring back to rural America,” he said. “Standing there on that stage watching farmers go, ‘Yeah, this is great.’

“We’re not just directly impacting one industry. When you can bring more profitability to rural America, you impact so many different industries.”

Future goals

Olthoff called the experience a career highlight reel. “We are just so honored to be in front of our peers,” she said.

She announced that ChopLocal also is the recipient of a three-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that will allow for continued expansion.

“That’s going to help us provide more educational events, webinars for farmers and butcher shops selling direct to consumer,” she said. “Our goal is to expand further outside of the 12 states. We want to be able to have every American in the lower 48 states access local meat through the ChopLocal platform.”

Joining ChopLocal as a semi-finalist at the AFBF Innovation Challenge in San Juan was Iowa’s ReEnvision Ag, led by Jayson Ryner of Nora Springs. Ryner has developed a dibble-style planting system as an alternative to current planters that use double-disk openers to create a seed trench.

He presented his business innovation as a top-10 semifinalist during preliminary competition.