Nebraska Extension has launched a new tool to help connect farmers with nearby grocers, restaurants owners, schools, farmers markets, processors and other components of the local food system.
The tool, Nebraska MarketMaker, is a free, searchable database that seeks to connect local producers of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, herbs and other foods with a variety of customers. MarketMaker, a national platform, is one of America’s largest online food industry services.
Nebraska Extension educator Ben Jewell said he hopes the platform gives Nebraska producers an inroad into new markets, including schools.
“We struggle with local food sources in public schools and universities because it’s a lot of work, it takes time, and it’s a challenge,” said Jewell, a member of extension’s Regional Food Systems team. “Buyers already have established distributors, and farmers who would like to sell directly to schools don’t always know how to get started.
“Nebraska MarketMaker gives us this very seamless way to all have really high quality, up-to-date information across the state, by creating transparency and building relationships between buyers and sellers.”
Nebraska Extension began working with MarketMaker to develop a version of the platform specific to Nebraska last spring, after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the market for food as schools, restaurants and farmers markets temporarily closed. Nearly two years later, many farmers markets are still in question and many small farmers are scrambling to sell their product and build an online presence.
The platform gives users across the production and distribution chain the ability to create a profile describing their business, products and purchasing goals, among other things. Users can create profiles by location, business type, product, certification, product attributes and more. MarketMaker also features an interactive map with geo-located businesses, as well as an online store to find and connect with new customers while making secure sales.
Just a few months after Nebraska MarketMaker’s launch, some producers are already seeing a payoff.
“MarketMaker has allowed our bison business to grow exponentially,” said David Rhuter, owner of Rhuter Bison. “At first, we just had our website, but after creating a MarketMaker profile that appeared in searches on multiple partner sites, the phone just kept ringing. It’s been wonderful.”
Jewell said MarketMaker will facilitate Nebraska’s farm-to-school programs and food bank participation across the state. It will also provide a centralized database of producers and distributors for everyone to use from MarketMaker partners such as the Nebraska Department of Education and Buy Fresh Buy Local.
For more information, or to set up a profile or browse existing profiles, click here.