Technology to help farmers’ market managers better understand and serve customers
FM Tracks, a new digital app designed to help farmers’ markets and local healthy foods initiatives manage and evaluate federal nutrition incentive programs, launched Monday, July 13.
The new technology, created to simplify the collection and evaluation process for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program, also gives users in-depth reporting tools and real-time information on market performance and trends. The FINI Grant Program supports projects to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by providing incentives at the point of purchase.
“We’re incredibly excited to debut FM Tracks and believe it will change the way nutrition incentive programs are accepted and managed by farmers’ markets nationwide,” said FM Tracks research principal investigator Darcy Freedman, associate director of Case Western Reserve University’s Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods.
The development of the FM Tracks app was supported through funding from the Ohio Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a direct investment by the Case Western Reserve Technology Transfer Office. A Cleveland-based software firm, Prototype1, served as the contract developer, and Blackstone LaunchPad at CWRU arranged for hosting space.
“It’s fantastic to see our translationally focused campus resources come together to leverage state, federal and corporate funding—all to find a pathway to market using a local software firm co-founded by a CWRU alumnus,” said Daniel Pendergast, director of operations for Case Western Reserve’s Technology Transfer Office. “It’s as close to the ideal commercialization ecosystem as one can get.”
Case Western Reserve’s Technology Transfer Office negotiated an option and evaluation agreement for the FM Tracks app with Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing affordable access of healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables for underserved consumers. The CWRU-Wholesome Wave partnership brings together researchers and healthy food incentive practitioners to increase affordable access to healthy foods.
With funding from a FINI Grant, Wholesome Wave, based in Bridgeport, Conn., will use FM Tracks to provide a common system for data collection and evaluation at more than 500 farmers’ markets across the United States. CWRU is an evaluator of this national project using the FM Tracks system, Freedman said. The goal is to have nationwide rollout of the FM Tracks app and website in early 2016.
“Until now, no technology tool existed in our field that allowed the means to develop industry standards for uniform nutrition incentive data collection,” said Michel Nischan, Wholesome Wave CEO and founder. “FM Tracks does just that.”
Nischan said the technology partnership with Case Western Reserve will help Wholesome Wave advance policy change around nutrition incentives.
FM Tracks, an iOS app and web-based portal, will serve as a critical tool as Wholesome Wave launches a randomized control trial study to measure the impact of nutrition incentive programs on consumers’ purchases and consumption of fruits and vegetables. FM Tracks users can gather data from people receiving benefits from SNAP, which provides nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities.
Data collected from the use of FM Tracks will be critical to inform future policies impacting the affordability and accessibility of healthy foods, consumer health and economic development for local communities and small and midsized farms, Freedman said.
“What spurred me to develop FM Tracks,” Freedman said, “was the potential to have something available to support implementation of healthy food incentive programs in the places where they are most needed.”