His grandfather, the last full-time farmer in his family, gave up the daily task of toiling in the soil for a city job. But Anthony Nicalo spent his youth in Pennsylvania working on his grandfather's acre-sized plot and cooking with his grandmother.
It's that interest in the roots of food that convinced the entrepreneur and former chef in 2009 to cofound Foodtree, a company based in Chinatown that uses technology to make it simple for businesses and individuals to share information about food.
"We need to make it easy to understand where what we're putting in our body is coming from," said Nicalo. "It's a very intimate, important thing."
Foodtree, which is seeking more financing, has five full-time employees and one part-timer working out of an office on East Pender Street.
Nicalo believes a sense of connection to the natural world can be cultivated through food.
"Oftentimes it is the people who are most closely producing food, farmers and fisherman, who maintain a connection to the planet in a way that most of us who live in cities do not," he said.
Vancouver restaurants Nicli Antica Pizzeria, Bishop's and Campagnolo have used smart-phone readable QR codes created by Foodtree linking menu items to farms that provide ingredients such as wild boar.
Foodtree is planning to do the same at Harvest, the local food store proposed for Union Street near Main. Customers would be able to see, for example, that the arugula they're perusing was grown by the urban SOLEfood farm, what other produce the farm grows and its farming practices.
In addition to creating applications for mobile phones, Foodtree is also working with data from the Portland-based Food Alliance, a third-party agency that provides certification for social and environmental responsibility in agriculture and the food industry, to generate a map that pinpoints the locations of certified partners.
Foodtree has also created a smart-phone application that allows users to shoot and post photos of food to eventually help "map the food web."
"It really is one of our early efforts at trying to make the food system more democratic and participatory," Nicalo said. "We often rely-less so these days, given the number of food safety recalls-on the government to keep us safe, or we look to third parties. The reality is that if we're going to eat well, we need to participate in the system."
The concept sees foodies and conscientious consumers forging a path with images of dishes and ingredients to which information would be added so others can see where they can buy items such as free-range pastured pork in Vancouver.
Foodtree wants to offer data to food businesses about the type of information individuals search for on the web.