It doesn’t take much effort to order an item off a restaurant menu or choose a piece of produce from the supermarket. For many these days, it’s as simple as downloading an app and waiting for the food to magically appear at the door.
However, connecting the farmers – who raised the cattle and inspired that signature steak dish, or the greenhouse managers, who grew the tomatoes and stocked that vegetable stand – to the restaurants and retailers is the greater challenge.
Virginia supports thousands of farms that supply local businesses and sustain the Commonwealth as a national leader in the agricultural industry. With so many farmers producing so many products in so many places, it’s often difficult to funnel food to the table, to the farmers markets, and to the front door.
Virginia Cooperative Extension, with additional support from a USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service Local Food Promotion Program grant, has been working on food value chain coordination and the promotion of local food systems for several years to address this disconnect to advance the wellbeing of all Virginians. Last year, Virginia Cooperative Extension was recognized for its efforts with the Virginia MarketMaker Program and received the 2021 Farm Credit MarketMaker Innovation award for their “Equitable Food Oriented Development powered by MarketMaker” program. The program is a partnership between Extension and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
MarketMaker is a national collaboration of land-grant universities, departments of agriculture, and food and agricultural organizations with a common goal of improving market opportunities for agribusinesses and food access for all individuals.
MarketMaker software, a virtual information-sharing infrastructure, was created by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2004 and has since been utilized by organizations across the nation as a helpful tool to connect the agriculture community.
Each year, Farm Credit recognizes one organization with the innovation award for its ingenuity in using the software. This year, Extension was excited to take the top prize.
“The Virginia MarketMaker Team is honored to be recognized as this year’s Innovation Award winner for the partnerships we’ve built with Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services to better meet the needs of our farms and food businesses and improve market access for our farms and food enterprises,” said French Price, value chain coordinator for Extension. “We are excited to continue to grow the Virginia MarketMaker program by adding new partners and working with the national team to develop and improve the existing platform.”
MarketMaker was first introduced to the College of Agriculture of Life Sciences at Virginia Tech in 2015 by former Agricultural and Applied Economics professor Kim Morgan, who formed the inaugural Virginia MarketMaker Team. Over the years, team members worked to build upon the software’s platform by updating the system with current Virginia farmers, producers, processors, distributors, and retailers, while also educating other state organizations of its value.
Price was once a student of Morgan’s and learned firsthand about the software in her classroom. Now, as a statewide food value chain coordinator, she has taken the reigns of the project.
“Through my position with Virginia Cooperative Extension, I have been working to make meaningful connections and build relationships throughout the agriculture industry in Virginia,” Price said. “These partnerships are vital to Virginia MarketMaker’s success and the successof agricultural communities throughout the commonwealth.”
Linking farmers, food businesses, and communities to emerging market opportunities with the Virginia MarketMaker system is just one of many ways Virginia Cooperative Extension coordinates educational programs and encourages innovation for a brighter future for Virginia’s communities and residents to thrive, and for their way of life.
By Mary Hardbarger