By Katherine Foran
COLUMBIA –– The Missouri Food Finder (www.MOFoodFinder.org(opens in new window)) is a new online tool that easily connects Missouri consumers with people growing and selling locally produced food in their region.
Developed by University of Missouri Extension’s Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES) in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Food Finder helps address an immediate need, said Jo Britt-Rankin, associate dean with MU Extension Human Environmental Sciences.
The economic impact of COVID-19 is expected to hit local producers and growers hard, threatening businesses and livelihoods as they are cut off from their usual markets and selling opportunities, said Marshall Stewart, MU vice chancellor for extension and engagement. Consumers face the loss of many usual food options and have heightened concerns about how and where they will be able to buy food.
“This easy-to-use resource connects Missouri growers and families in powerful ways that will help farmers and small businesses continue to thrive, while also helping families find nutritious local and regional food options,” Stewart said. “I’m proud of our team for seeing this problem and so quickly offering a practical solution.”
As with the 4-H Feeding Missouri statewide food drive collaboration with Drive to Feed Kids(opens in new window), MU Extension and Engagement continues to focus on the state’s food insecurity challenges, Stewart said. “We know that during these extraordinary times, we need extraordinary solutions to resolve food insecurity challenges.”
Missouri Food Finder— on the All Things Missouri site — provides one-stop access for businesses and consumers alike.
Farmers, growers and local suppliers can enter basic information about the food they sell, their hours, location and contact information. That information will automatically show up on a Missouri map. Consumers simply type in their location to see what options are available in the area they select.
The Missouri Food Finder tool was inspired by Lorin Fahrmeier, MU Extension’s Farm to Institution project coordinator. The Farm to Institution project connects farmers with school cafeterias and other institutional settings to introduce more fresh, high-quality, locally grown food into meals.
Fahrmeier and her husband, Bret, also have a fruit and vegetable farm in Lexington, Missouri, that has been in their family since 1947. Several weeks ago, they shifted exclusively to online sales of produce boxes, trying to get ahead of new provisions enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. About the same time, she noticed that Nadler’s, a butcher shop in nearby Wellington, had stopped its popular catering service and pivoted to selling a variety of food products — “basically shifting back to a rural grocery store model,”Fahrmeier said.
“It dawned on me we could be witnessing a resurgence of the rural grocery store that’s been missing so long as an entrepreneurial outlet for farmers and as a convenience for consumers,” she said. “We’ve been driving into town for so long we’d forgotten what’s been missing. This could be a way and a time for people to become reconnected to these local and regional food systems again.”
The next step was figuring out how to help consumers find these local food sources and businesses. To develop the tool, Fahrmeier and MU Extension’s Human Environmental Sciences team relied on CARES, which had experience working on food systems projects.
The Missouri Food Finder has the capacity to help growers and consumers envision and create a more local and resilient food system that has the potential to be sustained beyond the COVID-19 response, said CARES director Chris Fulcher.
“We’re building this together,” Fahrmeier said. “Now more than ever producers and growers have to learn to be more market-savvy and step out of their comfort zone, and we hope this tool can be a good start in helping to sustain that.”