via Technology helps link you to local produce on clarionledger.com, 8/5/2014
One of the great things about living in a mostly-rural state like Mississippi is that it’s pretty easy to find healthy foods, grown by local farmers. Many farmers just set up a shop from the back of their truck on a roadside or parking lot, farm stands are popping up everywhere, and many cities are hosting their own farmers markets.
Of course, farmers markets are nothing new; the practice of bringing locally-produced goods to sell in one place is just about as old as civilization itself. What’s changed is the fact that — as with most other businesses — technology brings powerful new tools to help people find just what they’re seeking. With the emphasis on healthier eating, the need to support local farmers and rising food costs, this is an ideal time for technology to come to the aid of consumers looking for local options.
Recently, as part of National Farmer’s Market Week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a series of measures to make it easier to find locally-grown foods and highlight the role of farmer’s markets. The USDA announced over the weekend that the agency’s National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,268 markets, an increase of 76 percent since 2008.
And here in Mississippi, consumers can easily link up with Mississippi’s 86 farmers markets, thanks to a new mobile app from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. The app (built by Mississippi company bfac.com) can be downloaded at http://www.mdac.state.ms.us/OnlineServices/ma_farmersmarket.asp. It shows the farmers markets on a map, and taps into your device’s navigation features. The app also allows you to see events at the big Mississippi Farmers Market, link to the “What’s Fresh” market bulletin and more.
“Good health starts with having access to healthy food,” noted Mississippi Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith. “Mississippi is fortunate to have 86 farmers markets, and these farmers markets provide consumers with increased access to fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. Today’s technology allows consumers to easily make a connection with Mississippi- grown products and the farmers who grow and sell them. All of this information is available right at the consumers’ fingertips.”
According to USDA’s 2014 National Farmers Market Directory, the states with the most farmers markets reported are California (764 markets), New York (638 markets) and Michigan (339 markets). All geographic regions saw increases in their market listings, with the most growth here in the South.”
The numbers reflect the continued importance of farmers markets to American agriculture,” noted Anne Alonzo, administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). “Since its inception, the directory has proven to be a valuable tool for accessing up-to-date information about local farmers markets. Farmers markets play an extremely important role for both farmers and consumers. They bring urban and rural communities together while creating economic growth and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods.”
The directory provides information about U.S. farmer’s market locations, directions, operating times, product offerings, and much more.
The data is collected via voluntary self-reporting by operating farmer’s market managers and is searchable by zip code, product mix, and other criteria. I decided to check out the USDA’s search feature, which allows you to search from a radius around a particular zip code.
Entering 39205, specifying a search area of 200 miles and selecting Mississippi only, I found 80 markets, ranging (in distance) from the Mississippi Farmer’s Market in Jackson to the Bear Creek Farmers Market in Belmont. In some cases, a website link was available, but still needs some work, as an extra apostrophe requires a couple of extra clicks to access the site.
Widening the search to include non-Mississippi markets brings up 202 results, from Mississippi and all the surrounding states. Search services abound. One service, Agrilicious (agrilicious.org), returned 39 results for a similar search, and the popular Eat Well Guide delivered results for 80 farmers markets, plus a lot of other options, such as “U Pick farms”, nonprofit organizations and restaurants.
In addition to the directory, the USDA is trying to increase visibility of Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) efforts, which allow you to pay upfront for locally-grown produce. The money is used to buy seed, fertilizer and other necessities. An example is Steede Farms in Lucedale, which started a CSA operation in 2010.
There are many more options, including local stores, so a quick Google search or a visit around town is a good way to find what you’re looking for fast. With so many options expanding, this should be the golden age of locally-produced food. Technology provides enticing new ways to solve the age-old problem of linking the buyer with the seller, so let’s eat!