Market Scene: NY

Snapshots from the farmers market.

FarmFreshNYC: A New iPhone App for Finding Local Food

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Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, and just about anyone who's ever taken a road trip would agree: one reason this country is fat and diabetic is the sheer convenience of buying processed food, compared with, say, scoring a reservation at Blue Hill. Jason Ide of Thinkenhaus created his FarmFresh NYC iPhone app to make buying fresh, local produce a little easier--for iphone owning New Yorkers.

Okay, so FarmFresh is one of those things that makes the "locavore" movement seem a little elitist. That doesn't bother me--I'm happy with anyone, rich or poor, supporting local farmers. Perhaps the app would be more useful in a town where Whole Foods isn't open until midnight, and the Union Square Greenmarket is as crowded as a Jonas Brothers concert. But these factors do make New York City a good testing ground.

The problem is, even as a Pollan-reading, iPhone-owning New Yorker myself, I didn't find the application particularly helpful. FarmFresh provides a list of "in season" products, which you can click on for factoids that vary from useful ("store beans by removing them from their shelves and refrigerating them in plastic bags") to utterly random ("sea robbins are bottom-dwelling fish that can actually emit audible sounds"). You can add the items to your grocery list or "watch" them, so you're sent an alert when they're in season. Then there's a list of farmers markets in each borough, with location and address.

As a shopper, I don't really care what's "in season," theoretically speaking. Strawberries are "in season," but they didn't have any at my local farmer's market last week, and the ones at the supermarket were from California. I care what items I'll find at each farmers market, and what I'm supposed to do with them.

At the farm where I work, our vegetable grower emails me weekly with a list of quantities she's bringing to the Greenmarket, and a projection of what she'll have over the next few weeks. All experienced farmers plan their crops out carefully and have good ideas of their current and future inventory. If thinkenhaus could enlist some Greenmarket farmers to forward along lists like these, shoppers could have a much better idea of what they'd actually find at each market. Plus, it would help consumers connect with farmers, while reinforcing the mentality that broccoli doesn't come from the store, but from a specific piece of land worked by particular individuals.

The other real problem I face as a Greenmarket shopper is cooking from my finds. It's pretty difficult to find recipes that include multiple, seasonal items. Maybe FarmFresh could team up with a recipe source like Serious Eats to create a comprehensive recipe database. In the meantime, I'll fall to my knees in gratitude if someone can come up with a dinner that uses up my fridge full of bok choy, radishes, and lettuce.

Note: This edition is only for the five boroughs of New York City, but FarmFresh apps will be launching soon in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans.

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