The USDA says 91% of U.S. farms are classiﬁed as small, usually family-run businesses, grossing less than $250,000 a year. That's a lot of local food production run on a shoestring budget, if any at all, with little to no access to customers outside of direct sales at a farmers market.
Then there are local, seasonal eaters looking for close-to-home farms, community-supported agriculture or local farmers market locations and schedules. Finding one unified, regularly updated and easy-to-reference source that connects you with nearby farmers no matter where you are in the country has been the stuff of dreams. It's also a seemingly Sisyphean task when you consider that the aforementioned 91% drops by an estimated 300-plus farms each week.
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The Locavore app -- a project of Local Dirt founder Heather Hilleren -- achieves what was previously thought impossible: a seamless, well-managed and thorough app connected to a network of more than 35,000 farmers. They even get the local "what's in season" info right, down to the number of weeks left in the season, customized to your GPS-identified location. It seemed too good to be true, enough that we ran it through a serious obstacle course trying to find something wrong with it. What we found, after the jump.
Despite luxuriating in one of the most accommodating climates for year-round, well, everything, we did take issue -- mild issue -- with one of the app's seasonal factoids. Locavore told us basil was in season year-round here. It's not. Were we able to buy it last week from ABC Rhubarb at the Hollywood market? Yes. But there's nary a leaf on the tables from December to March. Unless you include the off-season but still local greenhouse greens available at some markets, in which case, the Locavore app might actually be flawless. Informal crowd-sourcing is probably in order, so give it a go and comment below with your findings.
Everything else about Locavore is a smooth-running, thoughtfully programmed win. It accomplishes even the most obscure search tasks by tapping into the vast seller network at Local Dirt -- a free online networking resource that connects small farms, co-ops, CSAs and farmers markets directly to customers -- and is regularly updated via crowd-sourcing and partnerships with local food organizations. Farmers are required to reregister every year -- a slight pain for the small farmer but vital for accurate data in a depressingly fluid business environment. And it comes on both iOS and Android platforms.
In a world where word of mouth is largely online and in an industry that markets itself almost exclusively via word of mouth, the Locavore app does a fine job of connecting the dots, helping farmers dodge the online time sink that comes with maintaining blogs and Facebook pages and hopefully keeping a few more of them growing our food.