Examining Crops
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bridging the

tech gap

Leveling-up Agricultural Producers in our City of Gastronomy through

Technology, Training, and Tourism

Startup Tucson--together with our project partners Merchant Gardens, Visit Tucson, BRINK Media, and University of Arizona Department of Agricultural Education, Technology and Innovation -- have secured a two year USDA grant to assist local food producers and entrepreneurs. 


The program is set to be in full swing in early 2021, but we are excited to share more about the project and our grand vision!  

If you are interested in participating as a food producer, partner, or just an enthusiastic community member, please let us know by completing the interest form! 


The Challenge

Tucson is North America’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy but, unfortunately, despite that prestigious status and rich food culture, many of our local farmers, producers, and restaurants are still struggling in their businesses, especially in the face of COVID-related disruptions.


We believe that with the right support, we can increase sales to farmers and food entrepreneurs. We believe that through collaboration with partners and stakeholders, we can solve some of the access and distribution challenges that our food system faces. 

With the support of the USDA, we will spend the next two years focused on helping the region’s food producers level‐up their technology, marketing, and business skills.


Together with our partners, we will unify and amplify their overall marketing and messaging to improve consumer access and knowledge of our unique food heritage.

The Solution 

As part of this project, our team will deliver the following supports:

  • Startup Tucson Food Accelerator. Entrepreneurial training focused on developing new revenue streams, products, and services. 

  • BRINK Media will build modern eCommerce websites  for food producers to help address the current gap in digital access

  • Working with the agritourism and marketing specialists at Visit Tucson, participants and local producers will join a new online platform shop that aggregates these businesses into one location for easy consumer access.



During Phase One of our project, we will accomplish the following objectives. 


impact study

Baseline data and for current revenue, sales, and customer count and document
the value of sales increases or percent change in customer count for each program participant.

Education & Mentoring

30 food producers  participate in the Startup Tucson Food Accelerator to learn new business skills and diversify their current products. 

tech Assistance

Build 30 modern
eCommerce websites for food producers to increase access to new customers. 



Create a unified access point to drive regional and national traffic to food producer
websites, through a Virtual City of Gastronomy shopping page.

National Marketing

Create a unified communications and marketing campaign to amplify agritourism to the City of Gastronomy, fueling economic

entrepreneurial services

Startup Tucson is a nonprofit organization working to transform our regions economy through innovation and entrepreneurship. 


We work with over 3,000 entrepreneurs a year from all industries, assisting them with capacity building and training to move their businesses forward.


Startup Tucson’s established entrepreneurial education programs, partner network and mentorship roster will serve as the base for this project’s capacity building efforts.


Startup Tucson has recently completed a similar project for brick‐and‐mortar and creative maker small business in the wake of COVID‐19 with resounding success.

In addition to our existing programming, we are collaborating with subject matter experts to provide tailored training for food producers and value-added products. 


The grand vision

Our team sees this project as only Phase One of a larger initiative to connect our food and tourism sectors through enabling technology.  We see untapped economic potential for our producers and heritage food entrepreneurs. 

New local products in restaurant and stores

Seamless tech-enabled way to purchase products and experiences, and learn about the producers. 

A beautiful, user-friendly, unified platform with dozens of local producers and cultural experiences.   

As part of the current project, we will be creating an online platform that connects consumers with local food producers.  

This user-friendly site, will leverage marketing dollars and drive traffic to producers sites. Consumers will have a one-stop-shop to access local products.

In future years, we would like to see this platform continue to grow into an interactive  "Virtual Regional Gastronomy Trail" to encourage not only sales, but also stimulate tourism.  

  Virtual Regional Gastronomy Trail  

  traditional food, high-tech access  

In future years, we would like to use the current project as a launching pad for even greater integration between restaurant, producers, and tourism. 

We believe that technology can provide solutions to make seamless connections between experiencing an amazing local product in a restaurant, to ordering it to your doorstep, to promoting live experiences (ex. tastings)

  Elevating our global reach 

The challenges we face in our food systems are in no way unique to only our community.  

Globally, small farms and heritage producers struggle to compete and break through the noise. 

We believe that not only with this project be invaluable to elevating our reputation globally as a unique food city, but we also belive that the tools we develop throughout this process can be valuable for other communities around the world.  We aim to set a model that will make an impact for producers around the globe. 

Increasing our reputation as a world-wide food destination while celebrating our heritage, sustainability, and innovation! 

A Unified food system

In preparing for this grant, we spoke to members at each stage of the food system; we listened to their challenges and created a program to address many of the current gaps.  

Distributors & Marketplaces


Value-Added Producers and Food Entrepreneurs

Restaurants & Groceries 


Our Partners

501(c)3 working to improve our region's economy through innovation and entrepreneurship 

Driving economic development by connecting visitors with their ideal travel and meetings experiences in Tucson.

Local farm making fresh food accessible and affordable to everyone using the science of aquaponics and hydroponics.

A media company driven by a common purpose to progress our communities and leave a lasting impact on our culture.

University of Arizona Department of Agricultural Education, Technology and Innovation 

Prepare tomorrow's leaders for careers in agricultural education and related businesses and industries.

Additional collaborators

If you would like to contact the project team,

please email Dre Thompson, Executive VP of Startup Tucson at dre@startuptucson.com 

Funding for this project was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant GRANT13114986. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.