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Published April 14, 2010, 09:11 AM

Answers in hand with farmers market app

FREDERICK, Md. — Jenna Caruthers was no stranger as a child to growing food in a large family garden and she knew her way around farmers markets.

By: Ike Wilson, The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. — Jenna Caruthers was no stranger as a child to growing food in a large family garden and she knew her way around farmers markets.

Meeting people with little knowledge of how to prepare, store or buy food prompted her to develop Farmers’ Market Companion — an iPhone/iPod Touch application that teaches users how to shop for, cook and store vegetables.

The app, which went on sale through the Apple iTunes app store, profiles 88 fruits and vegetables — how to spot quality, how to store fresh food for longest life and some simple preparation ideas.

The app makes it easy to be an expert on farmers markets, discusses why buying local is a great idea, and offers shopping tips and philosophical thoughts about food, Caruthers said.

The 99-cent price for the app is the lowest amount Apple can sell the product for and keep it affordable, Caruthers said. Plans are already under way to update the program to include information on dairy products, honey, preserves, flowers — anything you can find at a farmers market. After the update, the price could increase to $2.99.

The product has been getting a steady response from buyers in Australia, Great Britain and the United States, Caruthers said.

The app includes an interactive shopping list so the iPhone/iPod reminds shoppers what foods they had intended to buy while standing at market displays.

Farmers and agriculture are subjects close to Caruthers’ heart and she believes in buying local to keep dollars in the local economy, she said.

The Farmers’ Market Companion will also teach Caruthers’ adult children a thing or two about vegetables. They grew up in a townhouse development, away from a garden, she said.

“I wanted something that my children could take to the farmers market or grocery store to look up the least you need to know about the rutabagas,” Caruthers said.

The number of farmers markets nationwide topped 5,000 in 2009, proving the markets are preferred shopping venues for many people, she said.

“Farmers markets combine fresh local food, farmers and fun. They draw health-conscious people eager to support their local community,” Caruthers said. “Even first lady Michelle Obama got a farmers market permit last year.”

After using the app, Frederick resident Dorian Jenney said she now feels totally prepared when she goes to the farmers market.

“The app spells out in 10 steps why you should go to the farmers market and 10 things to look out for once you’re there,” Jenney said.

The app offers information in alphabetical order.

Caruthers, a Frederick resident and receptionist at the University of Maryland Extension Office, was helped on the project by Joanne Brown, also an extension employee, who coded the application.

“She told me if I write the app she would code it and submit it to Apple,” Caruthers said. “I didn’t even have an iPod. I had to go buy one.”

The Farmers’ Market Companion app includes a Kitchenary — a definition of terms from the market table to the dining room table, Brown said.

“Folks can amaze and astonish their friends with the information they learn about agriculture in this app,” Brown said. “People are disconnected from their food. Extension is work-ing hard to educate people about their relationship with the earth, so writing this app was a natural for me.”

The Farmers’ Market Companion also includes information on seasonal fruits and vegetables, organic versus nonorganic and how to shop at the grocery store.

On the Net: Farmers’ Market Companion