Find Rare, Distinctive Holiday Treasures on Penn State Web Site

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Whether it's a Christmas tree, a decorative wreath or a goose for your dinner table, the holiday season can find you searching for hard-to-find foods and other natural items. But a Web site run by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences can make your holiday shopping struggles as simple as surfing the Internet.

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Whether it's a Christmas tree, a decorative wreath or a goose for your dinner table, the holiday season can find you searching for hard-to-find foods and other natural items. But a Web site run by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences can make your holiday shopping struggles as simple as surfing the Internet.

The AgMap Website (http://agmap.psu.edu) now lists more than 1,450 agricultural businesses, including 530 farmers' markets statewide. AgMap founder Rick Day, associate professor of soil science and environmental information systems, says the site can save time and effort in searching for things from the traditional to the obscure.

"Rather than take a long, desperate drive to find a roadside stand, you can ask AgMap to pull up all the farmers' markets in Pennsylvania, or to find the closest farm market within a 25- or 50-mile radius of your home," Day says. "You can ask for a particular crop or a nonfood agricultural product like hay or flowers, and the site will list all the farms or farmers' markets that have it."

"If you're searching for a specific variety, this can save you a lot of frustration at curbside stands," he says. "Also, if you're looking for a live tree that you can plant after the holiday, the site will direct you to the places that offer balled and burlapped trees. Many of the sites offer services like cut-your-own, baling and free refreshments for families looking for a fun outing. Over the last month, we've had more than 1,000 searches for Christmas trees, and we're expecting five to 10 times that number by Christmas."

AgMap provides the nearest location for many varieties of poinsettia, rosemary and other holiday plants, as well as such hard-to-find items as hay bales for that manger scene. Discriminating revelers will find appetizing items for a traditional Christmas feast, Day says.

"There are places to get a freshly processed goose, turkey or ham," he says, "conventional, free-range or organic. And you can find lots of really tasty things to spice up a Christmas dinner: homemade jellies, jams, fruit butters, nuts and cheeses. Much of it is produced locally, so your purchases support your local economy.

"We have more than 45 Pennsylvania wineries listed, and several offer specialty or seasonal vintages. More than 75 local craftspeople offer rural and Amish crafts around the state, with about 30 places to order gift baskets."

Of course, Christmas isn't the only holiday being celebrated, and AgMap's participating farms and markets provide literally hundreds of locations for specialty items associated with Hanukah, Kwanzaa or other commemorations.

"For instance, some people celebrate Kwanzaa by placing one ear of corn on the table to symbolize each child in the family," Day says.

"Corn on the cob can be hard to find in a supermarket in December. There are businesses offering goat and lamb for those who enjoy Caribbean or Latin cuisine."

The site provides interactive roadmaps for finding the farms and lists special features such as organic produce certification, subscription services and links to farm Web sites. Many members participate in the Pennsylvania Preferred program (which sets quality standards to encourage consumers to purchase Pennsylvania products) and the Pennsylvania Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, which funds eligible seniors and Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program participants to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farm markets and roadside stands in Pennsylvania. The service allows consumers to sign up for occasional updates from specific businesses, or to search for similar businesses or products.

The Land Analysis Lab (http://lal.cas.psu.edu) in Penn State Cooperative Extension's Geospatial Technology program maintains the Web-enabled database, which is linked to a geographic information system that lets users easily search information maintained and updated by registered producers and suppliers. Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture provide financial support for the marketing and promotion of AgMap.

Contact:

Rick Day

(814) 865-2050

e-mail at support@agmap.psu.edu.

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