URBANA, Ill. -- Since 2003, the University of Illinois MarketMaker Web site has been helping connect farmers and producers to markets. The Web site, which began as a free online database of Illinois businesses, has recently received a makeover.

There are currently 10 states whose Web sites are up and running: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi, and Georgia. Colorado, Washington, D.C., and South Carolina have Web sites that are under construction.

The national portal can be found at http://national.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/.

"MarketMaker has grown exponentially since it was first kicked off in Illinois 5 years ago," said Darlene Knipe, Marketing Specialist for University of Illinois and one of the founders of the MarketMaker program. "As more and more states went live, it became apparent that our system could not accommodate the level of site activity we were experiencing."

The MarketMaker Web site has one of the largest collections of searchable food industry-related data in the country. The information is categorized by buyers, sellers, location and other demographic information.

Knipe said that it's more than just an online directory, because it features a mapping capability, allowing easy location of nearby food sources. The site provides a quick, yet simple method of searching for food-related products in detail, looking for attributes such as humanely-raised or organically grown and product forms such as fresh or frozen.

Knipe said that MarketMaker is now not only faster, but the stage has been set for a suite of new features and improvements. One new addition to the website is the MarketMaker Blog where a team of MarketMaker bloggers will share their insights and expertise. And, the Buyers Sellers Forum will now include a calendar of product availability. Businesses who are registered on the site will also be able to track how many users have viewed their information and for what reason.

Future plans for the site include increasing the amount of educational material available.

"We have long known the value of MarketMaker's searchable directory of farmers and food related businesses. It is our strong suit," Knipe said. "But MarketMaker can also be a powerful tool for information and education."

Knipe said that MarketMaker's national network of partners includes 14 Land Grant Universities, including the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) at Iowa State University.

"We have a lot of expertise in areas of food and agriculture on the National Food MarketMaker team," Knipe said. "We plan to showcase that."

There is no charge associated with having a business listed on the site. For more information, contact Darlene Knipe (