This month we put the spotlight on Cara Rosaen, Co-Founder & Director of Vegetable Outreach of Real Time Farms, Chefs Collaborative member & recent sponsor of the 2011 National Summit in New Orleans. Real Time Farms is a crowd-sourced online food guide based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that aims to connect and educate producers, chefs, and eaters alike on where exactly their food comes from. Their mission: to collectively document the entire food system. Sound a little intense? You just haven’t met Cara.

Let’s start with the basics: You co-founded Real Time Farms with your husband, Karl Rosaen, describing it as a “for-profit social venture” and “crowd-sourced online food guide.” What exactly does all that mean?

Our mission is a social one: collectively document the food system, so people can make informed decisions about what they eat.

We are “crowd-sourced”, meaning everyone can add, edit, and share information they know about the farms, food artisans, and farmer’s markets around them. Like Wikipedia, we all have the ability to create a truly transparent food guide, one that gives us all the facts. The data is not controlled by single agencies, people, or companies, but rather by the public at large. We all have a voice that matters.

How did you personally become involved in the world of sustainable food?

I’ve always wanted to help people live healthy lives. In what feels like a ridiculously circuitous path, I’ve gone from integrative health student, to therapist in training, to starting my own business in recycled antique button jewelry, to now helping people know what they are eating. Though it may appear I have a short attention span (which maybe I do), the common thread is finding a way to empower people to live healthier lives.
Through all of this, I was inspired by Bill McKibben, Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, and a growing community of friends falling in love with cooking, canning, and growing their own food in response to the realities of our current food system. Good news is I’m married to someone with some pretty awesome ideas, and I hoped with my background, I could help bring them to fruition.

In that same vein, where did the inspiration for Real Time Farms come from? Was there a specific “lightbulb moment?”

I’d love to say there was a moment of revelation, but no. We were troubled about the current state of the food system. After a lot of research into our own local food system, we were delighted to find a set of great options for what to eat. Bad news, it took a lot of work to learn about where our food came from and how to find food we felt good about eating.
Many months of talking with farmers, vendors, and restaurant owners later, we got to the heart of what people really needed.
People really needed a single location, where they could intimately connect to the people, stories, and information about where their food comes from, so they could easily find food they feel good about eating.

Director of Vegetable Outreach sounds like a pretty cool job title. What is your favorite part of your job?

Working with people: chefs, farmers, students, and other community members who have a real passion to lift the veil on what we eat and empower people with the knowledge to make informed decisions.

What would you classify as a couple major accomplishments since Real Time Farms’s founding in 2010?
  • Launching the first ever tools for diners to trace their food back to the farm. Working with 60+ of the top restaurants so far to change the way people know food.
  • Our launch of the Food Warrior Program – an educational internship for students across the country to learn, document, and immerse themselves in their food system.
  • Being asked to speak at TEDxManhattan Change The Way We Eat this January, after attending last year, in awe of presenters such as Josh Viertel, Britta Riley, and Curt Ellis.
  • Capturing data on 4000K farms and food artisans, 6500+ farmers markets, and now 60+ restaurants.
How does the service Real Time Farms provides benefit to chefs?

We provide web tools to meaningfully communicate the depth of what they do – the stories of each of their ingredients and their purveyors. This builds consumer trust and appreciation for what they are eating, which will undoubtedly mean repeat customers.

By connecting their menu to an ever growing community guide of farms and food artisans, we are bringing that menu to life. Not only do diners get answers to questions before walking in the door such as “how was beef raised?”, “the lettuce grown?”, but they are also learning the stories, and seeing the pictures of the people and places that the chef knows so well but doesn’t have the time to share.

For example, here’s a bird’s eye view of Chefs Collaborative member Seth Caswell’s emmer&rye.

Click on any ingredient, see the farm name. Click on the farm name, and you are brought to a rich profile with stories, images, and more on the farm or food artisan.

Now when they update their menu on Real Time Farms, it updates their menu on their own site automatically, with all of the sourcing information – saving the time and money that would need to go into telling the individual stories of each purveyor and artisan.

How can our members get involved in Real Time Farms’s mission?

If you are a chef, try our web tools to tell your menu’s story. (Free 2-week trial. $40/month after that.)

If you are a farmer, fisherman, rancher, or food artisan, add yourself to Real Time Farms. (Free.)

If you are an eater (that’s all of us), play around on the site, and share what you know. (Free.)

Why are you a member of Chefs Collaborative?
To get to know all the partners of the food web, so we can build useful tools to trace each part.

With the holidays coming up, everyone’s got menus on the brain – any favorite dishes/ingredients this time of year?
This is not gourmet of me at all, and maybe not politically correct, but I really like canned cranberries.

We don’t judge!

Feel free to contact Cara with any more questions at or at 650-814-7796.

Anyone can register on for free; sign up and add your favorite local restaurants, farms, artisans and markets to their ever-growing database.