We are so Lucky! Eating Locally, part two.

>> Friday, January 29, 2010

Image via Wikipedia
Part Two of this series on eating locally takes us to the very popular LocalHarvest.org. I actually remember when this site first started out, thinking to myself that I hope it becomes really useful. I believe it has done so, and is continuing on its journey to become the place to bring farmers and consumers together.

There are a lot of sections on LocalHarvest, yet it is obvious that the primary function is to provide the locational database for finding nearby farms, community-supported agriculture, farmer's markets, and so forth. It does this very well, often finding resources easily within a few minutes driving distance of where you're looking. They have a database of over 20,000 farms, CSAs, markets, etc. and are adding about 20 per day, which is a really great success story in itself. Even with all that, I still didn't find one local farmer that I know of, but that only goes to show that they're not done growing, and that word needs to get out. Most of the growth on LocalHarvest is driven by the individual farms or by user-supplied data, which of course is understandable. Listings are the responsibility of the farms themselves, because it's just impossible for any normal-sized team of people to try to maintain the entire nation's worth of local agriculture.

A single week's fruits and vegetables from com...Image via Wikipedia
Each member listing shows address and details of the farm in question, showing checkboxes for types of food sold and during which season. All of this makes searching the vast database possible, of course. Often you'll get to see pictures of the farm, and occasionally some of the members maintain and update a blog through LocalHarvest, so you get to hear a word or two from the farmer themselves. I am always impressed whenever I see a well-organized and technologically-savvy farmer online and keeping in touch with people that way, because farmers are typically some of the busiest people in creation! Fortunately, LocalHarvest also provides the customer a way of knowing when the last time any member farm last logged in or updated their listing, so there is some forewarning in case a particular place has closed up shop but forgotten to update their account on LocalHarvest.

LocalHarvest maintains an online store with a wide variety of categories which is more like a virtual mall instead of a single store; it congregates multiple vendors - in this case small businesses, cooperatives, and farmers - and pools their products for this larger selection. I'm not sure whether I personally like or dislike the fact that "major" brands I recognize and buy for our own household aren't listed - such as Young Living essential oils or Tropical Traditions array of products. But this could be a good thing or a bad thing; it's good for the small, individual, and hopefully-local shop, and it means that I can't look to LocalHarvest as a kind of end-all, be-all place to go. I would choose the latter [edit; sorry, I meant former] first, so let's just mark that up as a "plus." I also like the glaringly-obvious "free shipping" labels that LH adds to their store items, in the same way they allow individual farms to label themselves "local pickup only" while browsing their farm and CSA listings.  You can't miss it. There's one thing that should be said regarding the LH store and that is that the products you see listed there are actually not necessarily local - however the point of origin is listed so at least you know how far you're going to be sending things if you order through them.

The New Leaf CSA (community-supported agricult...Image via Wikipedia
You can stay in-touch with LocalHarvest member farms through their convenient blogs and photos section. These are resources made available to the farms by LH and I think it's a great way to personally learn about the people supplying your food. As stated before, farmers are often extremely busy people and don't necessarily have time or ability to get their own site up and running. You'll find the members talking about their products, their plans, how the weather is affecting what they're doing, or anything else that may come to mind. This is the perfect medium for such a thing, I think, and I'm grateful to LocalHarvest for making it available to us.

The community built into or around LocalHarvest exists and is alive in their forum, on Facebook, and via Twitter. Their Twitter feed consists mostly of how many new listings have been added and when, which would probably become annoying but their release of that information is only about once every other day, and since they do post original comments occasionally as well, it wouldn't hurt to follow. The forum moves along steadily and I see it as a place to go occasionally to check in - however there are no external ways that I see to access the postings there, so I tend to forget to go back. It would be convenient for them to at least supply an RSS feed for the various sections of the forum (say, for example, the Politics, Activism, and Media section) so that we could keep in touch via our favorite news reader if we wanted. However like I said, the community exists and is alive, which is a good thing.

Their Facebook updates seem to be a bit more useful than their tweets, especially since it looks like the news here gets automatically posted to Twitter anyway. Due to the friendliness of Facebook, it feels like there's more personal interaction with the stories that appear there. Since their newsletter announcements get posted again to the Facebook listing, LocalHarvest is duplicating a little bit of their efforts as well - but I think they should do that, so that you don't have to subscribe to the newsletter if you would prefer to just follow them on Facebook.

I found one thing to be initially confusing: Signing up. There are actually two ways to sign up on LocalHarvest, which are as a member/farm, or a user/shopper. They make it a bit more obvious to sign up as a farm, which is then naturally what everyone wants to click on to register. I think they should put a little effort into making it obvious what they mean for registration before the user has to click through.

Overall, LocalHarvest is definitely an incredibly useful resource for all of us who are interested in organic and sustainable agriculture. I can easily and highly recommend using it even though it does not yet have a completely exhaustive database. Just keep in mind that you may need to look elsewhere for some products, and know that for in-depth research about the world of real food you're still going to have to go beyond their borders. But definitely, definitely stop by - we are lucky to live in a world where it's getting easier and easier to find real food!

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Anonymous,  January 29, 2010 at 10:26 AM  

Local Harvest has been a good source for me, but I still hope that more farmers will use it. They could also do a better job of updating, since often things that I have looked at are outdated (the farms aren't there anymore or under new ownership).

Psychic Lunch,  January 29, 2010 at 1:02 PM  

That's true. That is going to be the hardest thing about such a site; there's no WAY they could possibly monitor all the listings they have, so it's kind of an open source directory - up to people everywhere to fill in the gaps.

Guillermo Payet,  January 29, 2010 at 5:52 PM  

Thanks for the nice kudos and useful feedback.  One thing that is rarely said is that LocalHarvest is self-sustaining (no funding other than member donations and sales commission from our catalog) and that we are actually only 3 people doing all of the work. People sometimes complain that our data is not as complete as they would like it to be. Well, I would like it to be better too, but I believe we're doing a great job with our limited resources.

 --Guillermo Payet

Psychic Lunch,  February 1, 2010 at 1:43 PM  

My pleasure, Guillermo! Nice to meet you, too :)  I do think you're doing a great job and totally understand how much work is involved just in keeping the site going, much less trying to verify and add every single farm out there.  Thanks for your hard work!

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About Psychic Lunch

Psychic Lunch was founded in 2009 by a nerd and father who wants people to be healthy. The information on this site is researched, but should be considered opinion; that is, you should always do your own research and come to your own conclusions about what is and what is not healthy. Products endorsed on this site are actually believed in and used by the author.


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