FreshFinder: The farmers market app

16 Aug

“(Farmers) markets add value to the community on so many levels. They’re such a great way to support local farmers, a place to go see your neighbors. To slow down a little bit.” — Chris Curtis, Director, Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance

Welcome to FreshFinder, the mobile application that connects you with information, maps and tips for exploring Seattle’s awesome farmers market community. A unique app with minimal competition, FreshFinder is the go-to source for everything related to farmers markets in Seattle. The trend of farmers markets in King County is growing. Our region values local produce, freshness and supporting farmers in nearby communities. So where do Seattleites go to locate markets, share vendor information and find great produce? Currently, there is nowhere to go on the iPhone for this information. FreshFinder plans on changing that.

Scope

FreshFinder benefits shoppers who need information “here and now” as well as those who plan ahead. On a couch or at the bus stop, whenever a user needs to plan their next trip to a farmers market or research what’s in season, they can always access FreshFinder.

It’s a mobile guide to farmers markets in Seattle and plays the role of a tool, media and social actor. It answers such questions as: What are the vendors selling and at what times during the year? When are the markets open? Where are they located? How do I get there?

Features

 

FreshFinder is a versatile application with many features and capabilities. It’s first version will include with minimal features, but the app will grow with each update and version. Here is a quick look at the main features available with FreshFinder:

  • GPS & Map
    FreshFinder uses GPS capabilities to help users locate the closest and most accessible farmers markets in Seattle. It features multi-touch map integration via Google Maps, and there is search capabilities for the closest farmers market by item; for example, a user can find the farmers market nearest them where fresh cucumbers are available.
    .
  • Web-Based
    FreshFinder’s downloadable interface communicates with a web-based database over the iPhone’s network connection. This allows the application to update information about farmers market schedules and locations, as well as provide user-generated feedback such as comments and reviews.
    .
  • Calendar
    A built-in monthly calendar displays the days and hours of operation for each farmers market. This important feature allows users to manage their time efficiently, as many markets are only open during certain months or have shorter hours during the winter season.
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  • Market Details
    Users can see details of a particular farmers market by tapping on a market in the calendar, map or search feature. Contact information, address, hours and parking information is available.
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  • Produce Tips
    A unique function of FreshFinder is the tips feature that educates users on which produce is in season and how they’ll know if it is ripe and delicious.
    .
  • User Reviews
    A social feature of FreshFinder allows users to leave comments and reviews about certain markets and/or vendors. For example, let’s say you meet a nice couple selling homemade soap at the West Seattle Farmers Market. The soap is amazing and you want to spread the word. FreshFinder users can leave feedback on the soap itself, the vendor or the market from from within the app. Comments can be also shared via Facebook and Twitter, making it easy to share with your friends your farmers market favorites.

Versions

The first iteration of the FreshFinder application will be simple and straightforward. As updated versions are released, more features will be added. This allows for a quality application with fewer bugs and stronger usability.Plus, updates make users happy.

By keeping things fresh (get it?) we give users more incentive to continue using the app. Here is a quick overview of the app’s three versions:

Phase 1

  • Basic GPS capabilities
  • Google Maps integration
  • Farmers market details (only includes hours, address and contact information)
  • Calendar

Phase 2

  • Search for a market based on items sold (produce, wine, artwork)
  • Expanded market profiles including which items are available and parking information
  • Reviews and feedback
  • Produce tips

Phase 3

  • Share via Facebook and Twitter
  • Upload photos
  • What’s in season interactive map

Scenarios & Task Flows

Click each screen shot for larger views.

Scenario #1

Tia is hosting a dinner party on Sunday night. She knows about the West Seattle Farmers Market that takes place every Saturday morning, but she has never been despite its close proximity. Before venturing up the hill and braving midday traffic, she decides to check Fresh Finder to see if it’s even worth the trip.

She taps “Find Market” on the home screen and chooses “Markets Near Me” to take advantage of the app’s built-in GPS feature. Once the map screen loads and drops a few red pins where the nearest farmers markets are located, Tia taps the West Seattle pin and selects the “What’s Available” button on the next page. She then users a gesture to scroll through the list of items and likes what she sees—asparagus, bok choi—but it’s cheese that catches her attention. She had no idea they even sold cheese at farmers markets. Maybe it would be worth a trip.

Scenario #2

Daylen is a regular at the Fremont Farmers Market. He’s also a vegetarian. Tonight, he has a date with Erika and the usual fare—i.e. village greens and Perrier—just won’t do. He wants to make the best salad possible, and he knows from experience the Fremont Farmers Market does not have the key ingredient he’s looking for—fresh beets. So he opens up the Fresh Finder app on his iPhone and in four taps knows exactly where to go to find what he’s looking for.

On the home screen, Daylen chooses “Search by Item” and scrolls down to select beets. A map of the farmers markets that sells beets pops up, of which there are eight. But that’s not good enough, so he taps the “Best of” tab on the tab row and a table view rises from the bottom up with a list, in order, of the top-rated beets. There are only five, and he assumes the other three have not yet be rated. He taps University District Farmers Market and is impressed by the overwhelmingly positive user reviews. He views the second-, third- and fourth-rated beets but none stack up to the first. And it’s only a 10-minute drive to the market on Sunday. Perfect.

Scenario #3

Carly recently heard about the incredible honey at Georgetown Farmers Market. She lives on Beacon Hill and would like to go, but she has no idea where the market in Georgetown is actually located. A quick tap of the Fresh Finder app and another tap on the “Search by Market” button brings her to a table-cell style that lists each farmers market alphabetically. She taps Georgetown and then “Directions to Here” to bring up the map screen.

She pinches and zooms to see where the market is located. Ah, it’s between Vale and Nebraska streets. Carly knows exactly where that is. She taps the “What’s Available” button to see a list of all the items being sold at the Georgetown Market. Breads, beans, eggs and honey. It’s all there. But she really wants to know about that honey, so she taps “Honey” and up comes a screen with information about Brookfield Farms and several other vendors. She taps “Brookfield Farms” and is presented with contact info and a button to get directions. Easy as that.

And here is a snapshot of the application’s task flow, starting with the home screen:


Rationale

According to the 2010 Farmers Market Report issued by the King County Agriculture Program, the number of farmers markets in King County jumped from nine in 1999 to 39 in 2009. Surveys also show that 85% of King County residents buy locally produced food more than once each year. Sales at farmers markets have grown dramatically in recent years—from approximately $3.5 million in 1999 to $20-30 million in 2009. In fact, Washington is now among the top 10 states in the U.S. when considering the fastest growing rate of farmers markets (USDA, 2010).

The growing business of farmers markets and the desire for locally grown produce is our rational behind FreshFinder. Patrons of farmers markets need a mobile app that serves the way they shop. Mary Embleton, director of the Cascade Harvest Coalition, says: “According to recent public opinion research commissioned by King County, most consumers indicated a willingness to choose local produce if they were aware of where to find it and how to distinguish it from non-local items.” FreshFinder offers an easy way to find markets and provides tips for identifying high quality produce as well as the opportunity to engage with others via photo uploads and user reviews.

Additionally, FreshFinder is a resource that tourists can use to locate farmers markets in Seattle. A growing trend called “agritourism” is emerging and supports the opportunities FreshFinder has with those visiting our beautiful city. Agritourism refers to tourists who perceive food as part of the travel experience and are attracted to events like Sunday markets which offer items like wine, cheese and meat. In Seattle, it’s Pike Place Market. But there are nearly 40 other fresh markets operating within King County. Tourists may not know these markets exist or which days of the week they operate. FreshFinder puts this information at their fingertips.

There is a need for FreshFinder in the iTunes App Store. Creating an application that taps in to the cultural phenomenon of farmers markets is a smart and profitable business move for organizers and local vendors alike. The top reasons cited for not attending a farmers market is not having access to enough information and not knowing where the closest ones are located (Govindasamy, Zurbriggen, Italia, Adelaja, Nitzsche & VanVranken, 1998). FreshFinder benefits users by informing them about Seattle’s robust farmers market community. It benefits the markets by expanding their customer base.

Audience

They call Seattle the Emerald City, and that was before the metropolis of 617,000 went “green” with environmental civic pride. Ours is a community united in sustainable practices—from compostable coffee cups to the nation’s most expansive recycling program. It’s not just the people, either. It’s the politics. Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment works to make the area a healthier place to live, and pro-green Mayor Mike McGinn recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to accept the city’s $20 million grant for energy efficiency and conservation programs.

Our passion for local food and fresh produce is evident in Seattle’s farmers market community. It’s important to understand the diversity of farmers markets in our area so that we can identify the kinds of shoppers who will use the FreshFinder app. A 2010 survey conducted by the University of Illinois recognized five particular categories of people who regularly attend farmers markets: enthusiasts, recreational shoppers, serious shoppers, low-involved shoppers and basic shoppers. The study also identified that freshness is the largest advantage farmers markets have over large grocery stores. Our audience tends to gravitate towards local vendors because local foods tend to be fresher due to reduced shipping time.

Research shows the largest percentage of farmers market attendees to be over 51 years of age, so FreshFinder must focus on them. Unfortunately, only 17% of iPhone users are over 55, so this is clearly one of our application’s biggest challenges. We hope iPhone users in this group accept our application and that it generates interest in younger generations who want to buy fresh and support local businesses.

Competitive Analysis

There are a number of existing applications that center around farmers markets in the iTunes App Store. However, none offer the feature list included in FreshFinder, and most do not service the greater Seattle area. Here is a look at some of the apps that are similar to FreshFinder:

  • California Farmers’ Market Finder (Darwin 3D, LLC)
    This app is restricted to California, which makes it an indirect competitor of FreshFinder. The biggest complaint discussed in app reviews is the limited cities the app is available in, while the positive features are the database of over 500 markets that lists locations and directions. The ability to filter by county, as well as a feature allowing users to enter a market update on the go, are also touted in positive reviews. This application is free.
    ..
  • Farmers’ Markets (Apptika, Inc)
    It is difficult to gain a solid understanding of the positives and negatives of this application as there are no reviews. However, the app’s description states that its features include the addresses of local markets, what products are available at each market, the months/days/hours of operation, market contact information and the web address for each market. This is the most expensive farmers market application, selling for $4.99.
    .
  • Farmers Market Companion (J2 App Dev)
    This application offers many features that would compliment FreshFinder. This includes a vegetable identifier, tips on how to select good produce and information on how to store different fruits and vegetables. It also has recipes and tips on how to prepare market finds. This application is available for $0.99.
    ..
  • Farmers Markets (Phlogistic Apps)
    This application offers a market locater, which is the basis for FreshFinder, but offers little else in the way of features. It provides the addresses of local markets and maps, and while this would suffice for “market enthusiasts” it provides very little information a “serious shopper” would find useful. This application is available for $0.99.
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  • Locavore (Buster McCleod)
    This application caters to the Seattle market but is a national app at heart. It features an outstanding map of the U.S. that shows exactly which states a particular item is available in. For example, raspberries are in season for four more months in Washington. Facebook Connect within the “I Ate Local” section shows updates from around the world, while the GPS only shows a few farmers markets in Seattle even though there are dozens more. This application is available for $2.99.

Data Source

Considering FreshFinder is a hybrid mobile application that requests much of its information from a web-based database, the data it delivers to users is deeper and far more detailed is otherwise available via native application. This gives FreshFinder a wide range of possibilities and a roster of features that is unmatched in the mobile marketplace.

The data comes from outside sources, including nonprofits and government reports. FreshFinder collects its data by scraping these websites and relies heavily on updated information from markets and vendors. Of course, it will take a few “early adopters” to show the other markets and vendors that updating their information continuously is of benefit to their bottom line.

Here are brief explanations of where FreshFinder’s data will come from:

  • Locate a farmers market nearby
    Use existing GPS features to localize search and provide directions through Google Maps.
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  • Hours of operation and contact information
    Available through the King County Agriculture Program’s annual Farmers Market Report.
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  • Discover what’s in season
    Washington state’s seasonal crops are widely known and can be input into the web-based database. Epicurious has an amazing interactive U.S. map with this information, and a localized version of this map would be a nice addition to the FreshFinder roster.
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  • Leave feedback and share via the Social Web
    All of this data is user-generated and can be implemented through standard iPhone integration. Feedback and reviews must be stored on the web-based database, while adding Facebook and Twitter sharing is simply a matterof coding.
    .
  • Learn more about each market
    Available through the Farmers Market Report and by working with market organizers. This includes history, neighborhood information/location, number of visitors each year, etc.

A great deal of FreshFinder’s information is readily available online. Building the web-based database is time consuming, but once it’s complete it requires less resources as vendors and organizers are indoctrinated to the submission process. Because many small farms and farmers struggle to reach a wide audience, a simple submission process via FreshFinder can work wonders for their marketing and communications. This will take time to implement, but it’s a worthwhile process that benefits the vendors, markets and, most importantly, the consumers.

Sponsoring Organization

Chris Curtis of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance.

FreshFinder seeks one sponsoring organization to take the lead, and we recommend the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance as FreshFinder’s sponsoring organization. With seven markets under its umbrella, it is the largest of the big three associations that oversee 13 of the region’s farmers markets.

As a 501(c)3, the NFMA is governed by an 11-member board of directors, four of whom are farmers who sell at the markets. It employs eight full-time staff, including Director Chris Curtis, a 1973 graduate of the University of Washington, and has offices located in the University District.

FreshFinder and the NFMA are natural partners due to the organization’s reach and influence. In 2009, the NFMA collectively donated more than 47,000 pounds of fresh food to local food banks and in 2004 received the Mayor’s End Hunger Award in recognition of the work it does on behalf of the hungry in our communities. Clearly, this is an organization that cares about the greater good. Farmers markets play an important and valued role in our community, and their missions are simple: support local farmers, bring fresh, healthy food to the community, provide an opportunity for small business to sell their goods, and create a lively, family-friendly community activity.

By partnering with FreshFinder, the NFMA can bring farmers markets to an even greater audience. The application enhances the farmers market experience for existing customers and gives new shoppers the chance to interact with the market system before they go.

Promotion

Fresh Finder is perfectly positioned to tap into Seattle’s already successful farmers market community. Whether it’s the NFMA or King County’s PugetSoundFresh.org, there are plenty of organizations, websites and publications willing to help FreshFinder build a following. First, we must communicate with the farmers markets directly as well as the governing organizations to discuss the reasons why FreshFinder is a good thing for them to support.

We will build an interactive website that features the FreshFinder icon, logo and color scheme along with screen shots and links to share via Facebook, Twitter and email. All of the features will be listed along with a brief description of what the app can do. The site will take advantage of SEO tactics by using meta tags such as farmers market, fresh fruit and local produce. It will also house a Tumblr blog that updates users about forthcoming versions as well as farmers market news from around the region.

In reaching out to local organizations and publications that support farmers markets in Seattle, we’ll craft a social media press release that links to the website and includes the FreshFinder logo. GoDaddy.com shows the URL FreshFinderApp.com to be available, so we’ll purchase that to help with our marketing and branding efforts. In addition to targeting organizations such as the Washington State Farmers Market Association, we’ll contact The Seattle Times, Seattlepi.com, Seattle Weekly and Seattle Magazine, just to name a few.

FreshFinder will debut as a free application. It is a utility app that promotes many nonprofits in our area, and it should be made available to the widest possible audience. It will be easier to promote if it’s free, and considering our partners are the local farmers whom the markets are trying to keep afloat, the more eyeballs (and fingertips) we can get on FreshFinder the better. Our best bet for making that happen is to offer the application free of charge in the iTunes App Store.

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One Response to “FreshFinder: The farmers market app”

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  1. Week 8 : Promotion Plans | MCDM Smartphone Class - 16 August 2010

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