The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


Geolocator Project
December 11, 2009, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Farmers Market | Tags: , ,

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and The Renaissance Computing Institute are developing a tool to help farmers’ markets select ideal site locations in order to reach target consumers.  Community members, farmers, economic development professionals, marketers, food access advocates, nutritionists and economists are all collaborating intensely to make this happen.

Using tools to select ideal site locations is not a new practice for many businesses. Major retail giants such as Walmart and Sears use tools like this, so do fast food restaurant like McDonalds and Burger King. Even convenience stores like BP and 7-eleven pick new location sites with these types of tools. Now farmers markets will have their very own sophisticated market analysis tool to make informed decisions about where to consider situating a new farmers market venture or to relocate an existing market.

The folks at UNC and RENCI have been working for a year on this specific aim of the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project to identify and catalog appropriate data sources to build this tool.  They are integrating consumer socio-economic demographics, traffic patterns, public transportation routes, sites of existing markets, consumer behavior trends, and hopefully (in the longer term) the locations and types of food producers and processing plants throughout North Carolina. All of this data will be integrated with metrics of success and failure of existing comparable farmers markets into a GIS-based mapping software tool.

Determining how to measure the success of a farmers market for the purposes of this tool has been one of the biggest challenges of this project.  For many, success is not simply the financial performance of a market, although for most it is clearly an indicator.  There are more complex reasons for starting a farmers market besides making it a profitable venue for farmers, and these include issues related to food access and reaching disadvantaged communities with fresh fruits and vegetables. For some the ideal is creating a market that is easily accessible to low income people, for others the ideal is to maximize gross sales potential for farmers.  Either way, if local food systems are to be viable, producers and communities will need guidance in how best to situate and design marketing options.  And no matter what the goals are when developing new farmers markets, the geolocator tool will be able to help balance all of these considerations.

The project is at its midpoint, with one year into development to create a prototype.  The hope is that at the completion point of the grant, November 2010, the tool will be at a beta stage for testing.  The next step would be to find funding to expand development of the tool to improve its’ widespread applicability and sophistication.  At that point, the tool will be able to be used by whomever is evaluating where to site a potential farmers market or where to relocate an existing market; farmers market organizations, town councils, city governments, economic development entities and food access professionals. Ultimately this geolocator will serve in a similar capacity as those sophisticated tools used by large corporations – to make an informed decision about site selection and choosing a location with the highest probability of success.

Contributed by Robin Crowder. For more information about this project please contact her at:  robin_crowder@unc.edu.

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