>> Friday, January 22, 2010
There are all sorts of great benefits to buying locally, but that's not what this article - or series of articles - is going to be about. I started out thinking I'd do a nice, detailed list of online resources that would help you find local foods, but the more I looked into what's available, the more I realized that the scope of this information wouldn't fit into one little article. So this will be a large, multi-part expose into the tools and resources available to you, nearly one-by-one. That being said, feel free to submit sites for investigation and I will add them into this series.
This morning I will start with foodroutes.org. This seems a fairly appropriate starting place considering what purpose the site seems to be for, which is that of education. FoodRoutes is, indeed, a warehouse of articles, news, and links all dedicated to the purpose of enabling you to buy food locally. FoodRoutes.org represents the online presence of the Pennsylvania-based national organization that is promoting the Buy Fresh, Buy Local (BFBL) program, and it is affiliated with many national organizations, to its credit. Personally, I haven't come across any of the BFBL promotions, but then again I don't know how far from Pennsylvania that program radiates. I would think it to be a national movement.
Technologically, the site is visually pleasing and easy to explore, which is honestly an important consideration. I'm just not going to stick around on any site if it's ugly or difficult to use - unless it's a one-of-a-kind site that I need. Fortunately, there are enough consumers demanding high-quality food nowadays that the level of support is matching up.
There are definitely far, far more resources listed on FoodRoutes than can be entirely reviewed for an article like this, which (after randomly assessing a few of them for good content) proves the good standing of FoodRoutes as a place to go for more information. The site itself, however, does not actually generate much in the way of news or community. For example, there are sections of FoodRoutes that for all intents and purposes may as well have a little worker/construction icon saying "Coming Soon" on it; their calendar application (Take Action -> Events) only goes until 2008, and other sections stopped being updated in 2007. The News from the main page is still updated, but there are only about 1-2 posts per month. This frequency is also somewhat mirrored in their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and an email I sent to them about a week ago is yet unanswered.
It's hard for me to look to FoodRoutes as a solution for finding food in your own neighborhood, too. They link to a sister site, communityfood.com, for a kind of store/marketplace, but the options listed in the store are only from less than a handful of producers, which have the feel of a Red Envelope kind of store: Really expensive, gourmet selections that no one really needs.
My conclusion is that FoodRoutes is a great place to go to start learning about buying and consuming locally, but there are other, better tools that will actually get you moving in the direction of buying locally. Use it for research, but don't expect a lot back from it in the way of direct or community response.
It's a start.
[update from 1/26] I received a response back from FoodRoutes, and they're working on fixing the broken or outdated parts of their sites, being in between grant funding as they are at the moment.