Riley and James

Riley Clubb, left, and James Hall founded Harvust working together at Emberfuel Coworking. 

What do you get when a recent MBA grad and a techie with start-up hopes meet by chance at a co-working space? An app that helps farmers work more efficiently by connecting with people looking for work.

To come up with the idea for the Harvust app, founder James Hall drew from his experience working on a farm and as an engineering intern at Nelson Irrigation where he learned programming. He took an internship in Boston at a hedge fund/startup after college, and it all came together.

“I pretty much fell in love with capital markets and markets in general,” said Hall, who graduated with a degree in Economics from the University of Washington. “Towards the end of 2016, I started having this idea of, you know, what are the markets here locally that have issues and inefficiency? That’s farm labor.”

Hall met Riley Clubb at Emberfuel, the downtown co-working space. They struck up a conversation over Ubers in Boston and began to discuss what Hall was working on. Clubb, who spent summers working on his family’s vineyards, knew well the problem Hall was trying to solve.

“Immediately it just clicked,” said Clubb, who recently received his MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is also a Walla Walla City Council member. “I understood what he was working on and why. We joined forces pretty much right after that.”

Thus Harvust, an application for mobile devices, was born. In its first iteration, it was devoted to connecting laborers with farmers, but they soon realized that model was problematic, so last year they shifted gears to focus on communication between farmers and laborers, paperwork and training.

In talking with farmers while developing the app, they discovered those were the areas farmers struggled with.

“One of our growers said, ‘I’d love to hire people right now, I just don’t have the time to train them. We’re just too close to harvest,’” said Clubb, who handles sales for the app. “We’re really helping reduce that delay between ‘hey, I’d like to hire this person’ and having them actually out doing the work.”

The app allows farmers to send out announcements to employees’ phones and employees to complete new hire paperwork and trainings with a timestamp. The information is provided in both English and Spanish text with the option to convert to read aloud.

While still in Beta mode, Harvust is currently used by six Walla Walla and Yakima farmers, with others coming onboard, including Seven Hills Vineyard and Doubleback Vineyard. They’ll spend the next few months continuing to develop the app based on customer feedback and then focus on growth. They’ve had interest from the Washington State Farm Bureau and Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

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Catie Joyce-Bulay is a freelancer writing about craft ingredients, travel and whatever strikes her fancy. Connect with her on Twitter @catiejoycebulay.

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