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Portland Start-Up Tries to be “Facebook of Food”

In “foodie-heavy” parts of the country, if you want to buy a side of locally-raised bacon or organically-grown pears, it might be as simple as asking your neighbor or heading down to the local farmer’s market. But if you live somewhere besides San Francisco or New York, you very well may have access to local...

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In “foodie-heavy” parts of the country, if you want to buy a side of locally-raised bacon or organically-grown pears, it might be as simple as asking your neighbor or heading down to the local farmer’s market.

But if you live somewhere besides San Francisco or New York, you very well may have access to local farmers but not know it.

That’s the impetus behind Locifood, a new start-up that aims to be the Facebook of the local food movement.

Producers, customers, and restaurants that buy local food sign up on the social networking site to share information, rate a farm’s produce, or just discuss what on earth to do with the mountains of zucchini that are all that seem to be in season this time of year. Farmers post photos of what’s in season so shoppers will know what to expect at the farmer’s market or in the CSA box. Plus, shoppers who are trying to locate a particular locally-sourced item can use Locifood to find it.

“I have friends who’ve seen ‘Food, Inc.,’ and they’re all excited about it and want to change their eating habits, but they don’t know where to go,” Cindy Peterson, co-founder of Locifood, told Green Guide. “I’ve had stories of people telling me, ‘I finally found a guy who sells hormone-free beef, and he goes to this parking lot and sells beef from his truck.’ But to find this information, it took them several months.” With Locifood, shoppers could build a map of the nearest farmers or markets and just head out shopping. The site is serving just the Portland, Ore., area for its pilot, but the founders hope to expand nationwide.

That’s the idea anyway.

The site has been slow to catch on: the latest update from one of Locifood’s registered farms was from two months ago (Bella Organic Farm updated to say that they were now growing garlic, both hard and soft neck). And getting users to interact has been a “challenge,” Peterson admitted. “It’s not what people normally think about when they go to a local food website,” she said. “Like with LocalHarvest [a competitor to Locifood which is best known for its directory of local producers, farmer’s markets, and CSAs], you go on, get information, and take that information. You don’t necessarily interact.” Locifood wants users, not just farmers, to supply shopping and cooking tips.

As for the farmers and producers signed up on the site, they appear to see the service, so far, as just another piece of their marketing pie: Johnny Kondilis of Bella Organic Farm uses six farm directory websites, including Locifood, Twitter, an e-mail list, a website, and advertises in the local paper.

Souriya Khamvongsa, who owns Phoenix’s Egg Farm, says he spends two hours a day working on the farm’s website, Facebook page, and answering customer e-mail–despite the fact that most of the farm’s business is to wholesale clients. “You have to make time for the people that come to your farm,” he says. “Locifood, they’re definitely newer so I’m not sure how much brand awareness they have at this point. I think they’ve got a good product, so we’ll just see how it goes. People have told me they’ve found us from LocalHarvest, so Locifood is not gonna hurt.”

–Rachel Kaufman

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