The phrase "there's an app for that" now applies to Iowa's farmers markets across the state. The Iowa Department of Agriculture unveiled the free Iowa Farmers Market app in late June. It's designed to help people find the location and other information about local farmers markets quickly and easily using a smartphone.
The app is available for both iPhones and Android phones. It allows users to find the farmers market closest to them by using GPS location services or to search for specific farmers markets by city or zip code. Once they have located a market, users of the app can view the hours of the market, browse a list of vendors and see a phone number and email address of the market manager. App users can also leave reviews of the market, vendors and products and can upload their photos to share with others.
New mobile technology will help Iowans access farmers markets
"This app will make farmers markets easier to find and give visitors useful information as they plan their trip," says Northey. "We are entering prime market season now when sweet corn and many other fruits and vegetables will be available, so I hope Iowans take advantage and enjoy this fresh produce and use this app to help them locate a market." The app is free to download and is available through Apple's App store and Google Play by searching "Iowa Farmers Markets."
The app was developed for the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship using funds from USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Grant funds are targeted for projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops that benefit the entire specialty crop industry.
Iowa has had tremendous growth in number of farmers markets
"Iowa has had tremendous growth in the number and size of farmers markets and as a result we are seeing more farmers interested in raising fruits and vegetables and marketing them locally at a farmers market," says Northey. "Many customers are using smartphones, email and social media to connect with farmers and learn more about food, and we hope this app helps them do that."
Farmers markets continue to grow in popularity as Iowans seek fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables. An Iowa farmers market survey completed for the Iowa Department of Agriculture showed market sales have increased an average of 18% per year from 2004 to 2009. It also showed the Iowa markets had $38.4 million in direct sales of 2009 and a $71 million impact on Iowa's economy.
"If you want to get to a farmers market in a town and you're not familiar with the day of the week or time of day it is held, or the exact location, this app makes it easy to find it," says Mike Bevins, state horticulturist with the Iowa Department of Ag. "The new app lists many of the vendors that are at each market, at least those we have on our list at IDALS that accept government food assistance coupons and senior certificates."
A way to introduce new customers to Iowa's farmers markets
Bevins says other vendors who aren't currently showing up on the app listing, once they find out about the benefits of having their business listed, will want to get on the app list. "Most of Iowa's fruit and vegetable production is being sold directly to consumers, so it's critical to let the consumers know where they can find their local producers, especially those who are selling produce through farmers markets," says Bevins.
Enter Iowa Famers Markets into the smartphone and the home page comes up and you hit "find a market" and enter the address, or just enter the town where you are currently. The app will then list all the closest farmers markets. Bevins adds, "If you're driving across Iowa, you can say, hey, we're almost to the town where we're headed, and I'd like to swing by and buy something as a gift to give the person or family we're going to visit today, maybe some fresh strawberries or apples or baked goods."
Northey and Bevins are encouraging people to use the "likes and dislikes" part of the app so that over a period of time it would help the markets and vendors gain recognition for a job well done and also help them improve their marketing operation and products offered for sale. "There are opportunities to do that, but right now the main value of this app is just being able to help the customers find out where the markets are," says Northey.
Benefits for vendors too, by being more interactive with consumers
There are ways for this new method of communication to become more interactive, providing benefits for both the customers as well as the producers. For example, if a vendor has really good honey or tomatoes, tell them, says Northey. Or if a product needs some improvement, or if you think the way the farmers market itself is being operated could be improved, let them know.
Matt Russell, coordinator of the "Buy Fresh Buy Local" campaign in the Des Moines area and a regular farmers market vendor at the downtown Des Moines farmers market each week, says the new app is a great idea. "More and more people are using smartphones and hand-held devices to communicate," he notes. "This new Iowa Farmers Market app will help more Iowans access farmers markets across the state."
New mobile technology seen helping smaller markets especially
Russell adds, "This technology will give the smaller markets a lot more visibility. The new app is of benefit for all the farmers markets in Iowa, but it's particularly beneficial for the smaller markets. It gives them the ability to reach a new group of potential customers." Unlike the big farmers market operations in Iowa's larger cities, the smaller markets, especially those in small towns, don't have budgets or the visibility to reach consumers through traditional advertising and promotion efforts.
Everyone knows about the downtown farmers markets in Iowa's larger cities. People hear a lot about them through various promotions and just the fact that these bigger farmers markets are big, they are more visible, showing up in news reports, etc. For example, the downtown Des Moines farmers market attracts 30,000 to 40,000 people each Saturday morning during the season. It has a full-time manager and an operating budget for advertising and promotion.