Karl and Cara Rosaen and Lindsay Jean Hard sit around a sunny living room on the west side of Ann Arbor manning laptops. They are busy working on their local farm-and-food portal, RealTimeFarms.com. The website was launched on April 30 and features photos of fruits, vegetables and baked goods that are available at local farmers’ markets and restaurants in real time.
“I wanted to create a website that helped local farmers to market and distribute their produce at the market and to restaurants. The site makes it easier for farmers and restaurants who want to source food locally to connect,” said Karl.
There are over 6,000 farmers’ markets in the US alone, and 5,000 restaurants sourcing produce locally. Realtimefarms.com hopes to eventually have photos posted for every farmers’ market during the season and have menus listed from restaurants that locally-source food.
Farmers have their photos posted for free. Restaurants are charged a fee for the service to post an interactive menu that links menu items with the pictures and stories of the local farmers who grow and raise the food.
Corrina Parker, manager of the Westside Farmers’ Market in Ann Arbor, has been using Real Time Farms to feature the farmers and produce variety at the market.
“The reason why people come to farmers’ markets is to know the story of where the food comes from,” said Parker.
Realtimefarms.com provides a story section where farmers can share information about what they offer and the farming methods.
“It can be a little awkward asking a farmer at a market if they use pesticides,” said Cara. “Especially if they do, and you don’t buy and walk away.”
Information about a farmers growing practices, such as non-spray, certified organic or use of organic practices, is listed on the site, which provides users more insight into the food they buy.
The real-time aspect of the site is a unique feature.
“Most farmers’ markets provide a seasonal chart of fruits and vegetable,” said Karl. “But that does not provide information about what is at the market right now. For example, in Michigan, cherries were out early this year.”
The website works by having people take pictures at a market from a cell phone or digital camera. It is then sent from the phone or in an e-mail and posted instantly. A picture is attached into the e-mail, and the name of the farmers’ market is provided in the subject line. A listing of what is in the photo is posted in the body of the e-mail.
“We are working on an iPhone app, which is scheduled to be out in the fall,” said Karl. The iPhone application will allow users of the site to see real-time updates of what is available at their local markets or while traveling.
The photos go into a directory for a particular farmers’ market and a slide-show is generated.
“I post the slide show on our website,” said Parker. The slide show can be embedded into farmers’ market websites to provide real-time photo updates automatically.
The site depends largely on the market manager and customers to take the photos and post them to the site. More farmers’ markets are being added all of the time, with even a few from as far away as England.
“Our numbers have gone up 50 percent this year compared to last year, and I am sure realtimefarms.com has helped,” said Parker. “Once farmers’ market managers see what [realtimefarms.com] can do…it is exciting.”
Most farmers are open to having pictures taken of their food and to have it posted online. Amish farmers do not allow having their pictures taken, but let people take pictures of their produce. “Lots of farmers don’t have a website,” said Parker. Sites like realtimefarms.com basically do the work of giving a farmer a web presence. “We have mostly focused on getting this site going locally, but we plan to have a national push for spring,” said Karl.