ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — The National Food MarketMaker Program is a virtual supply chain to help farmers sell their products at a premium price.
“Our goal is to get enough people to sign up so it becomes a community where trade can take place,” explained Darlene Knipe, University of Illinois marketing and business development specialist.
“I’ve been working on this project for 15 years with my husband, Rich Knipe,” said the specialist, who spoke at the Women in Agriculture event. “MarketMaker is an electronic platform to connect farmers with products to markets.”
The project was started in the Quad Cities.
“Our very first partner was Iowa State in 2005, and ever since we’ve been adding states,” Knipe reported. “This has grown well beyond my wildest dreams. I think we had 12 farmers when we launched.”
Now there are 600,000 business profiles in the system, and MarketMaker has expanded to 20 states.
“Some of them are self-registered, and some are information we purchased,” Knipe noted. “Every farmer in our system is self-registered because there are no yellow pages for farmers.”
It is free to register on MarketMaker.
“There is no cost because we think the best way to succeed is to allow enough people in the system to interact with one another as possible,” Knipe explained. “The idea is if we can create enough information that draws the interest of enough people, we can create a busy community that helps people do business and connect.”
The profiles in MarketMaker include farmers, food processors, meat processors, wineries, grocery stores, distributors and more.
“Every state has its own portal, but we all share the same data,” the specialist said. “No matter where you start, you get the same information.”
The registration process should require less than 10 minutes to complete.
“Once you create an account, it goes to our office and we look at it to make sure it is legitimate,” Knipe noted.
All the information in the system is connected, the specialist explained, “so consumers can have high-quality food more affordably and allow farmers to sell at a profit.”
As a result, consumers can find farmers, so farmers don’t have to find them.
“MarketMaker identifies choices — things you can do with your product to make it unique and marketable,” Knipe said. “There’s opportunity in making that market pie bigger.”
Consumers can find out about what’s going on in their area. For example, on MarketMaker, consumers can search maps for vegetable processors, people with specialty grains or for products that are in season.
“You also have the ability to search for product by quality assurance, which allows people to search and sort based on certifications,” Knipe said.
“There is a buy-sell forum where you can post a product for sale or you can post if you are looking for a product,” the specialist added.
“We just recently added a seasonal labor portal as a new feature,” she said. “We just rolled this out about a month ago to provide information about the needs and availability of labor for farmers, and this has gotten a lot of interest.”
MarketMaker includes trade alerts.
“If you are interested in a certain type of market opportunity, you can put that in your profile,” Knipe explained. “When that opportunity comes through the system, it is directed to you.”
Another recently released feature is the mobile version of MarketMaker.
“This is our first effort to move into smartphone applications,” the specialist said. “This is the beginning of a lot of opportunities.”
Feeding America has expressed interest in working with MarketMaker.
“I’m very excited about this project,” Knipe stressed. “Their goal is to connect closer to the farmers.”
The project started earlier this year, and it includes a hotline where farmers can send a text message when they have surplus products.
“That message is channeled to the appropriate food bank that will follow up with the farmer,” the specialist said. “We don’t want to see any food go to waste.”
MarketMaker is an ever-evolving system.
“We built a feature for the farmers markets that allows them to show all the farmers at their market,” Knipe said. “That way you can cross promote one another.”
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