In these days of "market-driven" menus and "farm-to-table" eating, it's easy for restaurants and grocers to claim their food is local. But how do you really know where your kale is coming from? You'd have to take their word for it – until now. Created by husband-and-wife team Cara and Karl Roasen (he's a former Google engineer), Real Time Farms is a crowdsourced site that maps restaurants, farms, fishermen, artisan purveyors, vineyards, farmer's markets – essentially anyone who contributes to the food system nationwide. Consider it a Wikipedia for food.
Want to find a local restaurant that's transparent about its food sources? Click on "Eateries" and search the interactive map to find places, represented by round pins, in your metro U.S. area. There you'll find a menu complete with links to different farms, vineyards, and other artisanal food providers. Clicking on the "Liberty Duck Breast" offering on the menu for Santa Monica's Melisse, for example, takes you to a page for Sonoma County Poultry, where you'll find the full skinny on what that duck ate, where it roamed, and contact information for the purveyor.
If you frequent farmer's markets and want to know about a particular stand, you can search similarly on a map with pins representing different local markets, some of which offer further links to the vendors there. Where does the sauerkraut from the Santa Cruz Community CFM come from? Click on a link to the market and browse through vendors to find galleries and contact information for Farmhouse Culture, which makes the stuff from locally sourced, organic cabbage. The same process goes for farms you may want to research: Shumei Natural Agriculture in Santa Cruz, California, notes that they are certified organic producers who use "no manure, hybrid seeds, or chemicals on their plants" and showcases their in-season fare: bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini.
As with all crowdsourced sites, each venue page is only as good as the people who submit information, so some entries are still relatively bare, but the basic structure is here for an informative locavore hub. With time, Real Time Farms should help keep you from being that person at the table asking exactly how much room that chicken you're about to order had to stretch its wings, since you will have already done your homework.