New websites let farmers post free listings online for produce and more.
Gov. Jack Markell and Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee unveiled a new website Feb. 26 that will make it easier than ever for consumers to buy fresh produce from local farmers.
The site, www.defoodtrader.org, allows farmers to post free listings for all kinds of food items along with prices, availability and location.
Kee said the program is a major step in revitalizing the state’s agricultural economy.
“This website concentrates on the typical agricultural commodities, everything from tomatoes, watermelons, straw, hay,” he said. “It’s about facilitating, getting buyers and sellers together as much as possible, which will really benefit the economic welfare of our agricultural community.”
Sister site www.deagtrader.org works in a similar way but focuses on buying, selling and trading agricultural equipment and materials.
The program is funded with grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was developed at the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center, which works on agricultural advancement projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
Before designing the Delaware sites, the center’s Associate Director Joanne Throwe produced similar sites for the state of Maryland last year.
Throwe and her team of graduate students took ideas from existing websites and attempted to create a more convenient and user-friendly interface.
“It came from an idea of looking at websites across the country that were being developed but not being used well,” she said. “They were bulky and not as easy to use for people who might not want to spend all day on the Internet. You want it fast, you want the information accessible, you want to know when things are harvested, you want to know when it’s available.”
The sites work much like the popular free online classifieds board, www.craigslist.com. After creating a user account, members can post for-sale and wanted-to-buy listings, as well as advertise upcoming events like farmers’ markets and livestock auctions. Potential buyers can view the posts and contact sellers directly.
Throwe said response to the Maryland sites from both farmers and consumers has been substantial.
“Within months we had 500 members between both sites,” she said. “Consumers were coming out of the woodwork. We had them from Virginia and [Washington, D.C.], the whole area. People wanted fresh food and they wanted it locally grown. Why buy it all the way from California when you can get the best right here?”
Large organizations and governmental institutions also have taken advantage of the site, Throwe said.
Last fall the Baltimore city public school system bought 80,000 peaches through the Maryland food-trader site, enough to put a fresh peach on each student’s desk on the first day of school.
Kee said his department will work to popularize the food-trader site with Delaware school systems, hospitals and other public entities.
“Maybe a year from now we would hope to have 200 or 300 listings on there,” he said. “I would go out on a limb and say maybe in two or three years I’d like to see a million dollars’ worth of transactions going through this.”
In the coming weeks, Kee said the state will launch a third site devoted to buying and selling biomass materials like yard waste, food waste, manure and sawdust. These can be used to make compost, biodiesel or solid fuels like charcoal.
Markell said this site fits particularly well into his plans for advancing the state’s green economic ventures.
“I think anything we can do to help Delaware companies participate as the economy gets greener we ought to do, in this case when your applying new technology to an older economy like agriculture it’s a win-win,” he said.
Email Doug Denison at firstname.lastname@example.org