Easier to use, more marketing options, product focused — and lots of features to connect with consumers and other buyers. Food MarketMaker makes an offer difficult to refuse.

Enhanced MarketMaker makes finding growers, food sources easier

Dar Knipe, MarketMaker co-founder, and Taidghin O’Brien, MarketMaker designer and data wrangler, described the interactive website’s improvements and new features during the virtual Illinois Specialty Crop Conference.

Through MarketMaker, participating farmers provide information at no cost about their operations and products. That information is shared simultaneously with Illinois Farm Bureau and other partners. Visit foodmarketmaker.com.

“MarketMaker is going through a Renaissance and the capabilities will grow,” O’Brien said.

“If you’re a producer, this will maximize your market exposure. By creating (a business) profile, you get to derive benefits,” Knipe added. “From 500 products (to list and search) to 4,500 by the end of the month. We went from (listing) just apples to varieties of apples. We’re excited to be able to log into (MarketMaker) from Facebook and Google.”

One new benefit applies directly to Farm Bureau members. Fifteen county Farm Bureaus have added portal “plug-ins” on their websites, allowing consumers to search and connect to local growers and others affiliated with MarketMaker. O’Brien reported 11 plug-ins currently were live. “Hopefully, every county Farm Bureau will have a plug-in,” he said.

Farmers who are new to MarketMaker will encounter a streamlined profile design that is more user friendly, according to O’Brien.

And an improved search function allows buyers to seek specific products in a certain area and growers to denote specific attributes in individual products. Users may search for growers by zip codes, place, point of interest, type of commerce, such as online stores, and product options, including fresh, bulk and canned.

“If you have something specific in a product list that you want people to find, it (search engine) will pick it up and your farm name,” O’Brien explained. “For example, you can search for GAP (good agricultural practices) certified Honeycrisp in central Illinois.”

In addition, growers may add affiliations, such as Farm Bureau and Illinois Specialty Growers Association, to their farm profiles and those logos will be displayed.

Knipe and O’Brien described the upgrade timeline as imminent.

“Everyone who has a profile will be notified when it goes live so they can go in and check their information and edit it,” Knipe said. “As much of the data as can will be moved over (to the enhanced MarketMaker), but you (growers) will still have to go in, sign in and claim your data.”

“It’s a good time to be in Illinois and to be in MarketMaker,” O’Brien said.