The FarmAField office in the Newman Center on N. 16th St. on March 1, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is home to students from all over. They hail from small, farm villages, towns and big cities, bringing a variety of experiences and values to the table. It can be hard to find commonalities among so many differences, but one factor is hard to deny: everyone has to eat. The problem is, hardly anyone knows where their food is coming from.

UNL graduate Matt Foley is the lead business developer for FarmAfield, a startup located in the basement of the Newman Center on 16th and Q streets that is working to bridge the gap that so commonly exists between farm and table.

On Feb. 14, FarmAfield launched its first public product: a cattle marketplace that allows ordinary people to engage in agriculture and form personal connections with the places their food comes from.

Previously, livestock investments were made by individuals with big bucks. A single pen of cattle can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000, which makes the idea of investing too tall an order for ordinary consumers, such as college students.

It isn’t always beneficial to the feedlots either, which are often stuck with leftover cattle in their pens that aren’t covered by those investments. FarmAfield’s marketplace changes all that.

FarmAfield’s lead product developer Andrew Minarick, a UNL senior biological systems engineering major, said it’s a pain for feedlots to fill the last few remaining spots in their pens, so they just don’t bother and end up losing money. That’s where FarmAfield steps in.

“We say to the feedlot, ‘Let us bring buyers to you so you can fill those holes,’” Minarick said. “We serve as the middleman between ordinary consumers and farmers, bringing the two together to make the process easy.”

Here’s how it works: Individual investors create an account on FarmAfield’s website and choose the amount they’d like to allocate toward a certain production contract. According to Minarick, that amount can range anywhere from $1 to, well, just about anything.

“We’re trying to make farming and agriculture accessible to everybody,” Minarick said. “Our marketplace opens possibilities for people who don’t know where to start.”

FarmAfield then pools those small investments together into a group account and pays the feedlot the sum of those investments. The platform also gives people updates on the cattle they now partially own. Right now, those updates come in waves, but FarmAfield plans to make them real-time in the near future.

Foley said FarmAfield isn’t reinventing the wheel. These production contracts have existed for years, but it’s FarmAfield’s use of technology that is making those contracts more accessible for the average consumer.

“We’re tearing down the wall for people who want to know where their food comes from,” Foley said. “FarmAfield is a leader in this area; we’re giving people the first tool to do that.”

According to Minarick, technology is improving industries almost everywhere.

“Different industries are becoming more efficient, but agriculture is lagging behind,” Minarick said. “It’s getting there, but FarmAfield will help solve some of those inefficiencies that technology hasn’t reached yet.”

The first marketplace opened two weeks ago and Foley said FarmAfield is already receiving a lot of positive feedback.

“There’s a strong need for this,” Foley said. “Lots of people are calling us and wanting to know more, so we’re working on tailoring this solution to a lot of people across the country.”

Minarick, who grew up in North Bend, said FarmAfield’s use of the cattle marketplace is going to have a direct impact on Nebraska’s agriculture.

Right now, the marketplace only allows for investments in beef cattle, but FarmAfield plans to broaden that spectrum to include swine, poultry and crops.

“I grew up in a small, agriculture town,” Minarick said. “I know guys who grew up raising cattle, and it’s cool to see how this solution could potentially help them in the future and help others have a greater connection to it.”