July 16, 2008

Web Site Helps Buyers in Search of Safe Tomatoes

A recent national salmonella outbreak in some tomato varieties has sent grocery stores, restaurants and tomato product producers scrambling to find sources. One place they've been able to connect with tomato growers is through the MarketMaker Web site.

"The local tomato farmers listed on that site are source- verified, so consumers know where the tomatoes came from and how they were grown," said Dar Knipe, University of Illinois Extension marketing specialist.

Sandy Shetler manages the Web site. "I received a call from a vegetable farmer in Lancaster, Ohio, who is one of the tomato producers listed on MarketMaker. He had been contacted by someone who needed uncontaminated tomatoes. His tomatoes were just turning green so he referred them to a producer in southern Illinois whose crop was a few weeks ahead of his.

"Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi are farther south and may have tomatoes ready to sell and they all have live Web sites with searchable databases of producers," said Shetler. "This is a prime example of when something like the salmonella outbreak happens, people can visit the Web site to find local, source-verified food."

The Web site began as an online database of Illinois businesses but has expanded to include 10 states whose Web sites are up and running: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi and Georgia. Colorado, Washington, D.C., and South Carolina have Web sites that are under construction.

Knipe said they partner with Land Grant Universities because they have Extension personnel. "We train the Extension educators how to enroll new entries, then they go out to the farmers and other producers and teach them how to get their business listed on the MarketMaker Web site and how to update their information," she said.

There is no charge associated with having a business listed on the site.

Individuals can use the MarketMaker Web site to search for restaurants or places to buy things like maple syrup, wine and produce direct and producers can search for farmers markets, grocery stores and other outlets to sell their food products.

The national Web site is located at http:// national.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/. Participating states are highlighted, making it easy for users to navigate from state to state and get data from a combination of states or from just one area.

For more information about MarketMaker, contact any member of the development team: Darlene Knipe ([email protected]; (309) 792-2500), Gina Backes ([email protected]; (309) 796-0512), Pat Curry ([email protected]; (217) 782-6515) or Peter Goldsmith ([email protected]; (217) 333-5131).

MarketMaker is a collaboration between the University of Illinois Initiative for the Development of Entrepreneurship in Agriculture (IDEA), the Illinois Department of Agriculture and C-FAR (Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research). The project was funded by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, University of Illinois Extension, and the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR).

Bagwell is nutrition and wellness/family life program coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at (309) 663-8306.

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