Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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December 17, 2023 | Tom Ballard

FarmGrub connects farmers and consumers

Start-up has an 1,800-square-foot warehouse in West Knoxville, 1,600 registered customers, 500 active buyers, 70 local producers, and more than 500 products on its website.

There are four individuals involved in a Knoxville start-up named FarmGrub Inc. who are connected through previous business relationships and, in one case, literally by blood.

Three are Co-Founders – Wade Austin, Hank Rosenfelder, and Omar Chaudhry. The fourth – former Tennessee Vol football player Charlie Rosenfelder, a consensus first-team selection on the 1968 College Football All-America team and Hank’s father, is a business advisor for the company. Three are in Knoxville – Austin and the two Rosenfelders, while Chaudhry is based in New Jersey.

What they share in common is a passion for helping farmers and consumers connect, working with local farmers and producers to provide fresh local groceries, including fruits, vegetables, breads, free range and grass-fed meats, farm eggs, cheese, dairy, pantry items, and more to residents in and around Knoxville, seven days a week, in as little as two hours.

As those who attended the recent finale for the 2023 “AgLaunch Bootcamp” heard Austin say, FarmGrub is really a logistics company. “It’s a last-mile local food distribution network for local farms to local families.”

Beginning in June 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the start-up spent about six months “getting our legs,” Austin explained. Today, not quite three years into operations, FarmGrub has an 1,800-square-foot warehouse in West Knoxville, 1,600 registered customers, 500 active buyers, 70 local producers, and more than 500 products on its website.

The three locally based individuals, including Charlie Rosenfelder, are involved in delivering orders each day to customers in five delivery windows with at least one of them working every day of the week. All three co-founders also have full-time jobs, so Farm Grub is in addition.

What’s the start-up’s secret sauce? “It’s leveraging proprietary software with smart warehousing and streamlined business practices,” Austin says. “We strive to become a consolidated voice for local farmers and food artisans in the region.”

As he told attendees during the “AgLaunch Bootcamp,” the company wants to expand to Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte, three cities within a four-hour drive of its home base. To do so, however, the start-up first needs about $600,000 to realize its two-year goals within the Knoxville area. Nearly half of that funding will be dedicated to inventory management and product growth.

As previously noted, FarmGrub has five delivery windows every day, seven days a week, allowing its customers to pick a time that works best for them.

So, you are no doubt wondering about how at least three of the four connected. It’s the sort of story that defines many East Tennessee start-ups.

Austin co-founded DMGx in 1994 in Knoxville. It was the first digital design agency in the Southeast and one of the first in the country. Nearly 19 years later, he sold the firm and moved to the West Coast to work with Julie Wainwright, who co-founded The RealReal eCommerce site. Austin served as Director of Consumer Facing Product Design while Chaudhry was Director of Product for all back office business systems like CRM systems, digital asset management systems, and operations systems including warehouse management. A serial entrepreneur and product thought leader, Chaudhry’s experience ranges from scaling Vente-Privee USA to $70 million to boosting TheRealReal’s revenue to $460 million. His expertise in digital product strategy is a cornerstone of FarmGrub’s tech-driven approach.

After five and one-half years on the West Coast, Austin returned to Knoxville, at which time he and Chaudhry launched OlioBox Inc., a remote product strategy, design, and development agency that curates each team with seasoned digital experts in user research, product strategy, design, technology development, production, and project leadership.

Among other roles in a variety of cities during his career, Hank Rosenfelder worked for DMGx for four years and reconnected with Austin and Chaudhry at OlioBox as Business Development Manager. While in Nashville, worked as a driver for Instacart and Uber, something that would prove valuable for FarmGrub. It was while driving for Instacart that Hank first came up with the idea that would eventually evolve into Farm Grub.

Austin recalls conversation with all three, “We’ve been working for others. We need to come up with our own ideas.”

After attending a winter farmers’ market in January 2019, the idea of FarmGrub was hatched.

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