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Technology | Websites and apps help 'locavores' find locally grown food

Issue: "Return to war?," May 5, 2012

In hope of supporting their communities and improving health, more and more Americans are deliberately eating locally grown foods. They sometimes call themselves "locavores," and often share a disdain for industrialized food production and a love for organic vegetables and free-range chicken.

The Agriculture Department estimated late last year that sales of local foods (including to grocers and restaurants) would reach $7 billion, up from $4.8 billion in 2008. The number of farms selling directly to consumers has grown from 86,000 two decades ago to 136,000 today, and in the past three years the number of farmers markets has increased 50 percent, to over 7,000.

A sprouting of websites and smartphone apps is catering to the growing locavore community. Here are some that make finding local produce a snap:

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LocalHarvest (localharvest.org), Eat Well Guide (eatwellguide.org), and FarmPlate (farmplate.com) maintain directories of family farms, co-ops, farmers markets, restaurants, meat processors, caterers, food artisans, and other businesses committed to sustainable, locally grown food. Many listed farms sell organic food as well. All three sites make it easy to search for businesses or markets in your town or state, and although FarmPlate advertises the largest directory, I found LocalHarvest to provide the most helpful search results: They included detailed descriptions and multiple customer reviews.

Eatwild (eatwild.com) claims to be the "most comprehensive source for grass-fed meat and dairy products in the United States and Canada." For inclusion in its directory, farms must commit to raising animals in free-range conditions, and in most cases eschew feed grain, hormone treatments, and antibiotics.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service maintains a directory of directories: Click on your state on the service's website (attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/local_food/search.php), and you'll find a list of local food guides.

Two additional websites have limited listings but unique approaches: Local Dirt (localdirt.com) provides a portal for farms to sell produce to individuals or restaurants, and buyers place orders using an online "shopping cart" and arrange to pick up produce or have it delivered. Real Time Farms (realtimefarms.com) is a "crowd-sourced online food guide," where anyone can add information and photos about their favorite local food sources.

Two apps: Locavore (getlocavore.com) colorfully identifies in-season produce in your area, and shows you where to buy it. The Farmers Market Finder (apptika.com/Apps/Farmers_Market_Finder.html) locates markets in about a dozen states but is only available for iPhone and iPad.

Dressed smart

Jochen Tack/Newscom

Is it a sign of things to come? Public school officials in the Brazilian city of Vitoria da Conquista have decided to use microchips to prevent kids from skipping class. The city's education secretary said parents were dropping off their children at school without waiting to see if they entered the building-and some students didn't. Now, radio frequency tags in 20,000 school uniforms will check in students when they pass sensors at the school entrance. If they're more than 20 minutes late for class, a text message alerts their parents: "Your child has still not arrived at school." The city spent $670,000 to implement the system. Officials plan for all the city's 43,000 students ages 4 to 14 to wear the "intelligent uniforms" by next year. -Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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