Iowa Ag dept releases farmers market smartphone app

BY JOE HITCHON | JULY 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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Consumer demand for healthier food and the desire to support local farmers and new technologies have led to the creation of a new smartphone app aimed to attract the younger, more technologically reliant generation to Iowa farmers' markets.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture developed a free application for mobile phones that will help Iowans access more than 230 farmers' markets across the state.

The application allows iPhone and Android users to locate the farmers' markets nearest them using a GPS location services or searching by city and zip code.

Matt Russell, a farmer and the state food-policy project coordinator, said the application is an interesting and innovative idea, and it will continue to showcase Iowa as a leading supporter of farmers' markets.

"Iowa has always been a leader in the way of farmers' markets; we have one of the highest number per capita in the country," he said. "It's a helpful tool to connect people who are not in front of a computer to markets."

Once a market is located, a user can view the hours of operation and find the phone number of the market manager. The app will also feature reviews and provide additional information regarding the market and its vendors.

Tammy Neumann, coordinator of the Iowa City Farmers' Market, said the new app is a welcome addition to existing efforts in promoting the various farmers' markets in the Iowa City area.

"We think it will be a helpful way to promote the farmers' markets, especially for those visiting from outside the community who are not already aware of our times and locations," she said.

Farmers' markets continue to grow in popularity across the state, and a market survey completed for the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship showed market sales have increased an average of 18 percent per year from 2004 to 2009. The survey also showed Iowa markets had $38.4 million in direct sales in 2009 and a $71 million impact on Iowa's economy.

After seeing the potential for iPhones and apps to make the farmers' markets around the state more accessible to young people, what began as an idea for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey was eventually developed through a contractor.

"We used specialty crop grants to pay for the development of the app, which is why we are able to offer it for free," said Dustin Vande Hoef, the communications director for the Agriculture Department.

The app was developed using funds from the U.S. Agriculture Department Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

The program, which has been around since 2006, allows the department to administer funds to projects and organizations that promote the competitiveness of specialty crops here in Iowa.

The timing of the new app could not be better — farmers are entering peak season for sweet corn and many other fruits and vegetables.

"Our hope is to support farmers' markets in the state by improving access to as many Iowans as possible to take advantage of the fresh produce this season," Vande Hoef said.

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