Well-known farmer and author Joel Salatin says, “This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal.”
Millions of Americans agree with Salatin, and as a result, the local food movement has grown in the last decade. Beyond just seeking out local food, Americans are also starting to show a real interest in where all of their food comes from. But this comes with challenges.
The challenge for consumers and food-related businesses, like restaurants or grocers, is finding sources for their food. The challenge for producers, like farmers and farm businesses of all sizes, is finding markets and consumers of their products. Arkansas MarketMaker is a solution to these challenges.
MarketMaker is a user-friendly database operated out of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Office. It is intended to help market and connect growers, food producers, retailers, or anyone else with a food-related business to each other and to consumers. Developed by Darlene and Richard Knipe via the University of Illinois Extension Office, the database is used in more than 20 states. Arkansas joined the network in 2010.
So how does it work? Anyone with a food-related business can create a profile with details about what the business does, its location, contact information and other details. MarketMaker then then maps each location and allows users to search by location or business type to find the products they want. For example, in Arkansas a consumer can search for “Tourism” sites and find the Post Family Vineyard in Altus or J & P Ranch in Scott.
As Arkansas MarketMaker program director Beverly Dunaway says, the more participation the database has, the more effective it is for all users, and in the long run, the better it is for the agriculture industry in Arkansas. Farmers probably have the biggest challenge in using the system as they often work long hours and simply do not have the time or energy to devote to marketing their products. MarketMaker makes this aspect of business development fairly simple for busy people. It also consolidates all of their information into one profile so they don’t have to create profiles on multiple directories or databases elsewhere.
Another benefit of participating in this multi-state network is having access to food businesses in other states. If a restaurant in Louisiana is looking for regional produce, it may find a grower in south Arkansas or Mississippi. This type of network can also be a real boon for the farmer who wants to expand his or her sales nationally or for retailers who want to provide regional specialties in their stores or restaurants.
Growers, food producers, retailers, or anyone else with a food-related business is invited to create a profile at https://ar.foodmarketmaker.com/. Creating an account is free, and Dunaway is happy to help people use Arkansas MarketMaker to its greatest effect. The database is also free to consumers to use to track down their favorite peaches or fish to use at their next family reunion or to find a great corn maze in autumn.