When University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior agribusiness major Brennan Costello saw a poster for the Thought For Food Challenge, and decided to apply for it, he didn’t think much of it.

Costello is one of four who are part of the FarmAfield team. Working with Costello, FarmAfield was created by Matt Foley, a junior economics and management major; Andrew Minarick, a sophomore biosystems engineering major; and Mitch Minarick, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering.

“It was kind of on the side,” Foley said. “We have our meetings (in the basement of the Newman Center) and one morning Brennan was like, ‘oh, by the way, I applied for this thing.’ Then a couple months later we hear we’re going to Switzerland.”

The Thought For Food Challenge is an annual competition where university students from all around the world submit various solutions for feeding the growing population of the world. Thought For Food defines itself as “a movement dedicated to tackling the global challenge of feeding 9-plus billion people through bold, breakthrough solutions.”

In the challenge, ten teams are selected by a panel of judges. This year, the Thought For Food Challenge had more than 400 participating teams from 105 countries; FarmAfield was among the ten projects chosen as finalists. With this, the team will travel, all expenses paid, to Zurich, Switzerland, for the Thought For Food Global Summit in early April.

“I think the two biggest things that we will get out of (going to the summit) is, one, obviously the exposure as we’re trying to build our brand name and also building a customer base,” Foley said. “But also just the global integration of ideas. We’ve already had opportunities to have Skype meetings with the founder of Start Some Good, a crowdfunding website. A lot of people that we never would have had the chance to cross paths with, we’ve been able to reach out to.”

FarmAfield is an online marketplace designed to connect more people to agriculture.

With FarmAfield, anyone will be able to own cattle through a business relationship between a farmer and the customer. The customer will invest money in a farm and have partial ownership of the animals they invest in. Then, when the cattle are ready to go to the market, the investor and the farmer will share in the return. Costello said that customers will be able to receive updates on how the animals they’ve invested in are doing. He also said that they hope to expand their investment options to include chickens, hogs, grain farmers, vegetable farmers, etc.

“The example I use is Farmville,” said Foley, referencing the Facebook game. “So many people care about a silly little game, but think about if they spent that time and money on agriculture for real. They’re spending real dollars to unlock special features, what if they did that and unlocked special features on someone’s actual ranch?”

Mitch Minarick came up with the idea for FarmAfield after returning from after a mission trip in Africa.

“(Minarick) came back (from a mission trip) and just saw big inefficiencies in African agriculture and wondered if there was a way that he could solve that problem,” Costello said. “So he came up with this idea of people (investing) in them, instead of just giving them money, actually investing in them so they have to get something back at the end of the year.”

The overall goal for FarmAfield is to eventually expand into a global marketplace where customers from all around the world can invest in farms all around the world.

Costello said one of their goals with FarmAfield is to help farmers with a new source of capital they didn’t have before, and one that won’t add additional debt to operating loans. He also thinks this will help customers have a better understanding of what is in their food.

“We can get more people involved and we can close the gap between farmers, where the food comes from, and consumers not knowing where their food comes from,” Costello said. “I think there’s a big food debate going on right now in the United States, whether it’s GMO, large scale, local or organic. All in all I think people want to know about their food. I think this is a tool to help bring them a little bit closer.”

Costello also believes that FarmAfield will allow customers to learn more about agriculture as a whole.

“Matt (Foley), here, is a city kid from Lincoln,” Costello said. “I don’t know if he’s ever been on a farm, but he’s learned a lot about agriculture working through this. That’s similar to what we want to happen on the app or the website. You’ll be able to get connected to agriculture, you’ll understand more about how beef is raised, where that hamburger came from. Who are the people behind raising those animals, the farmers out there?”

Costello said user can see and meet them, as well as learn more about agriculture.

“I really like this because a lot of people don’t understand investment,” he continued. “I don’t understand stocks so investment is kind of a weird word, but this, you actually get to invest in a real animal in a group of cattle, so you’ll get that real connection. It is an emotional tie, you get to impact agriculture and have a say in where your food is coming from, but you also get something tangible and make a little bit of money out of it too.”