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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Indie Plate, Uprooted

by Sydney "Brown Nose" Blanchard
Peru Sharma is one half of the dynamic duo behind Indie Plate

Each month, our Uprooted series will highlight local chefs, restaurants, organizations, and farmers who are spearheading the farm-to-table and local foodways movements in South Louisiana. 

When working on his dissertation in agriculture supply chain management at LSU, Peru Sharma spotted a gap in the market that he became determined to fill.

“My thought was," Sharma said, "the Internet economy has hit sort of every single aspect of our life except food, except agriculture.”

While at LSU, Sharma met Ben Bartage at a house party. After discussing the business of basketball, the law student was impressed, and the two agreed to work together in some capacity after they graduated. 

Shreveport native Ben Bartage co-founded Indie Plate in 2013
“I’m the foodie in the partnership," Sharma said. "Ben is more the legal guide, the businessperson. We have very different mind sets.”

And those very different mindsets led them to conceptualize Indie Plate in 2013, a grocery delivery service that brings farm fresh foods to local consumers.

Sharma had been working at the Red Stick Farmer's Market in Baton Rouge each weekend, and he began to think there had to be an easier way for millennials to access fresh, locally grown produce without having to wake up early on Saturday mornings. 

Thus, Indie Plate was born. 

What began as a form emailed out to a few customers became a website launched in December 2013 where customers can virtually add locally produced proteins, fruits, veggies, and baked goods to their shopping carts and have them delivered to their homes (as of now, they deliver to Baton Rouge, Prairieville, Denham Springs, Port Allen, Central, Brusly, Addis, Gonzales, Zachary, Maurepas, and St. Amant). Indie Plate even offers customizable farm baskets, meal kits, and pantry items from local producers.

Farm-to-table is but a click away. 

Sharma and Bartage have spent the last few years cultivating relationships with local farmers, which hasn't always been easy. Sharma said when Indie Plate first started, farmers didn't understand the concept of what they were trying to do. 

Sharma said it wasn't easy to earn the farmers' respect. It took showing up to the Red Stick Farmer's Market each weekend at 6 a.m., showing face, and enduring a joke or two aimed at his ethnicity (he's originally from India). 

“Farmers appreciate hustle," Sharma said.

What they do is give farmers larger markets. The 80 to 90 farms they work with now span from central Louisiana to Alabama, so Mississippi farmers can now sell produce fairly easily to Louisianans. 

Asian Glazed Black Drum using local ingredients from Indie Plate
Asian Glazed Black Drum using local ingredients from Indie Plate
"Most farms we work with have increased their business 10 to 20 percent," Sharma said. "Some farms have doubled their business through exposure they’ve gotten through Indie Plate.”

According to Sharma, 90 percent of Indie Plate's business is consumer business. But beyond supplying groceries to consumers, Indie Plate works with a select number of local restaurants to provide them with the freshest, highest quality local ingredients. But not every restaurant is on board.

“Baton Rouge restaurants, they’re more price-conscious, not very quality conscious," Sharma said. "But there are some restaurants like Magpie, Nino’s, City Pork, that really care about the quality of the food.”

Their plan is to continue to expand their business by employing drivers in order to shorten delivery times for consumers as well as work with more restaurants to get them on the farm-to-table train.

“The whole thing feels very organic," Sharma said. "It’s not corporate, it’s not big or large.”

Right now, the Indie Plate CEOs make all the deliveries themselves. 

“We went from a farmer’s market to a grocery store, and we’re continuing to expand.”