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Online Guide Supports Local Agriculture

Using a layered map of farms and markets, a Massachusetts program directs residents and visitors to the freshest local foods.

by / November 9, 2012

Looking for fresh organic produce? Wondering where to take your family for some apple picking? Want to make a commitment to support local farmers and food producers?

If you live in Massachusetts, you’re in luck. The state’s Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR), has developed an interactive map for its website that features colorful graphic icons to direct residents and visitors alike to outdoor attractions like organic farms, maple sugar houses, wineries and farmers markets.

While Massachusetts is just under 11,000 square miles, it has a significant amount of agriculture within its borders. Rick LeBlanc, website and ag-tourism coordinator for the Massachusetts DAR, explained to Government Technology that the department needed an effective way to get the word out. “A lot of people forget about the different diversity of types of agriculture in our small little state,” he said.

According to LeBlanc, the department used to post on its website lists of farms in the state organized by county. But a farmer in Worcester with a farm name near the end of the alphabet complained that he wasn’t getting the visibility some others in the farming community enjoyed under this system. He was not alone in his desire for a better solution.

On a limited budget, officials leveraged internal expertise to develop a dynamic web tool which plots farm locations on a map with corresponding graphic icons. The “Agri-Google” map gives site visitors a visual representation of the area’s rich resources, using the popular Google mapping technology, already familiar to Internet users.

The map started with Massachusetts farms, and additional agricultural listings were added as its popularity as an information resource grew. Today the map includes 14 different categories of local food and beverage producers. Clicking on an icon pulls up details, contact information and links for directions. Many locations fit into several categories, so the detailed description displays all appropriate labels.

“There are multiple ways to find different types of sources of local products, whether it's a farm stand or a farmers market,” LeBlanc explained. “It also depends on the season of the year,” he added, pointing out that maple sugar houses are popular in March, while pumpkin farms peak in October.

LeBlanc reports that the MassGrown & Fresher map is a sought-after resource on the department’s website, generating an average of nearly 24,000 views per month in 2012. Apple picking season, promoted heavily by the department, seems to generate more interest from the public than any other activity.

The DAR makes a concerted effort to educate the public about the online map at local events, on area transit, via participating farms, and by working with other agencies in the state with similar missions, like the health and human services department and local tourism bureaus. Other communications avenues for the map include an email subscription group and a Twitter account, @Massgrown.

The MassGrown & Fresher program received a 2012 Bright Ideas award from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. 

See what Massachusetts DAR is doing: 

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Noelle Knell Editor

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.

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