BATON ROUGE, La. — The state Office of Community Development is touting the online Louisiana MarketMaker program that provides a database of local fishers, farmers and food retailers, matching food producers with consumer markets and thus potential buyers.
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports (http://bit.ly/1lSbFs9) the office's Disaster Recovery Unit provided a three-year, $125,000 grant to the LSU AgCenter to get the service up and running.
On Tuesday, the state said the website had more than 4.6 million hits since it launched in June 2010 through April — much more than its initial goal of 100,000.
Anybody in Louisiana with a product to sell — seafood, citrus, pecans, strawberries or other items — can establish an account on the site for free.
Potential buyers then can find them through the site's Google-based searchable database. It's similar to a matchmaking service, allowing buyers and sellers to find one another.
Nearly 21,000 Louisiana food businesses and 500 agribusinesses have signed up with the site, the state said.
"We knew that our fishermen and shrimpers took a real hit from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, and we knew we needed to help them in a way that would make the industry more sustainable for the long term," said Pat Forbes, the director of the state Office of Community Development.
"Providing funds for this website was uncharted territory for us, and it's exciting to see the response the fishermen have had from consumers looking for great Louisiana seafood."
Seventy-two commercial fishermen and shrimpers in the coastal Louisiana parishes have signed up for the program, the office said.
The grant came from Community Development Block Grant money that the state had received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for recovery from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign first developed the service. Then in November, the nonprofit Riverside Research signed a global licensing agreement with the University of Illinois for the exclusive rights.
It is one of the largest databases of searchable, food industry-related information in the country, currently linking producers and consumers in 19 states, plus the District of Columbia. And since taking over MarketMaker, Riverside Research has begun expanding into other countries.
"The number of buyers using the site to source and buy Louisiana seafood and other local food products, as well as the number of firms that have registered their businesses on Louisiana MarketMaker, is testament to the important role the website plays in the food supply or value chain in our state," said John Westra of LSU's Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness who helped launch the local service.
Individuals who want to register for the local site may go to http://La.FoodMarketMaker.com.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com