The goal of the “Santa Rosa Fresh” Marketing Assistance project was to increase local awareness and consumption of locally grown produce in Santa Rosa County, Florida. During the 2003 and 2004 calendar years, we aggressively marketed the Riverwalk Market, a local farmers’ market established in 2003, as the primary outlet for Santa Rosa Fresh produce; sponsored cooking demonstrations at the Market to promote Santa Rosa Fresh produce; developed two websites, one for the Riverwalk Market and one for the Santa Rosa Fresh brand in general; and created a “Santa Rosa Fresh” logo, which is currently pending trademark.
The Riverwalk Market has become a very successful retail outlet for local farmers. From 2003 to 2004, farmers at the Market enjoyed a 97% average increase in the amount of produce sold at the Market. Cooking demonstration events at the Market, with themes such as “Cook It Like Grandma Did,” drew up to 500 customers, and local media enthusiastically embraced the Market, often providing free advertising and promotion services.
The project also led to a 246% increase in the name recognition of the “Santa Rosa Fresh” brand. While we did not measure name recognition for the Riverwalk Market, informal polling suggests that the Riverwalk Market name is more widely recognized than the Santa Rosa Fresh brand.
Our future efforts to promote locally grown fruits and vegetables will continue to focus on the Riverwalk Market, since it has been so successful thus far. We have had numerous requests to open a second market in the south end of our county, where tourism to our beaches on the Gulf of Mexico has created a very different economy than the rural agriculture environment of the northern part of the county. However, at this time we are constrained by the number of farmers growing produce – we don’t yet have enough local produce to meet the demands of the north end, much less open a second market. So our future efforts will also include increased farmer recruitment and development.
The rural community in Santa Rosa County, which is located in the Florida panhandle immediately east of Pensacola, faces two hurdles: lack of diversification in crop production and few local outlets for that production. Out of the 73,948 acres planted in Santa Rosa County in 2003, 39,098 acres (or 53%) was planted in either cotton or peanuts. Of the remaining land, only 2,350 acres (or 6.7%) was planted in fresh produce. At this time, demand for local produce far outstrips supply.
The purpose of this Sustainable Community Innovation Grant project was to create name recognition of “Santa Rosa Fresh” within the local market, educate consumers about locally available produce, and make them more likely to purchase locally grown items.
The area also faces challenges in the seasonal availability of produce. The vast majority of produce is grown in the early summer season. Santa Rosa County’s geographical area is conducive to multiple growing seasons, but growers have traditionally not grown in the “off” season. Thus the county has little diversification in its agricultural sector in both crop variety and seasonal production. This lack of diversity threatens the sustainability of the farms and the agricultural sector of our local economy.
The Santa Rosa County Agribusiness Committee and TEAM Santa Rosa Economic Development Council (TEAM) have since 2000 been involved in a concentrated effort to address this issue. This effort has taken two primary directions: establishment of the Riverwalk Market, a local farmers’ market in downtown Milton, the county seat of Santa Rosa County; and the development of alternative markets for locally produced goods, such a processing and distribution center that can process locally grown produce for delivery to regional institutional markets (still in the planning stages). This second goal also involves pursuing the “Santa Rosa Fresh” trademark for natural products grown and produced in the county.
Objective #1: Achieve an increase in name recognition of “Santa Rosa Fresh” in the county by 50%.
Outcome: From 2003 to 2005, there was a 246% increase in the number of people who recognized the brand “Santa Rosa Fresh.”
We completed two random surveys to determine this outcome. The first was administered in Fall 2003 to establish a baseline knowledge of the brand name “Santa Rosa Fresh” and of the Riverwalk Market. A follow-up survey was conducted two years later, after completion of the grant project, to determine the increase of brand awareness of these two entities. (Awareness of Riverwalk Market is important because it is the primary retail outlet for “Santa Rosa Fresh” produce and because the Santa Rosa Fresh brand is used as part of the Riverwalk Market’s advertising and promotions.)
Results of the 2003 survey show that of 418 residents randomly surveyed by telephone, only 13% had heard of the brand “Santa Rosa Fresh,” and only 6% had heard or seen any advertisements for the brand.
Results of the 2005 survey show that of 258 residents randomly surveyed by telephone, written survey, and online survey, 31% had heard of “Santa Rosa Fresh.” Furthermore, 46% of the respondents to the followup question “Have you heard or seen any advertisement for Santa Rosa Fresh before?” answered “Yes.”
The 2003 and 2005 survey forms and results spreadsheets can be seen in the supplemental materials included with this result. Please note that in order to cut down on cost and survey time, we shortened the 2005 survey to include only 5 of the original survey’s 15 questions. Questions not directly related to “Santa Rosa Fresh” and the Riverwalk Market were deleted. Comparisons of the 2003 and 2005 surveys are based on only the questions common to both surveys.
Objective #2: Increase local sales of locally grown produce by 25%.
Outcome: Based on daily vendor surveys reporting pounds of produce sold, vendors at the Riverwalk Market showed a 97% increase from 2003 to 2004 in local produce sold at the Market. The 2003 daily per vendor average was 154 pounds of produce sold. The 2004 daily average was 304 pounds, a 97% increase over 2003.
In 2003, 6 farmers had sold regularly at the Riverwalk Market, with up to 9 present on Saturdays (Market is open three days a week). In 2004, 12 farmers attended regularly with up to 15 vendors coming on Saturdays. Most farmers reported selling out on Saturdays, the best sale days, during both seasons. The Market also enjoyed record numbers of customers to the Market in 2004, with an estimated 500 coming for each cooking demonstration event day.
In 2003 and 2004, the Market Manager at the Riverwalk Market had each of the growers provide daily reports on the pounds of produce sold. In order to make the comparison of the two seasons as accurate as possible, the only reports used were from the three vendors who sold both in 2003 and 2004 during most of the three summer months that make up the summer season (May, June, July).
We further worked to improve the accuracy of this method by taking into account the dates of the reports. The Riverwalk Market is open three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) from 7:30 a.m until 1 p.m. In order to make the comparison as valid as possible, 2003 and 2004 data for each vendor was matched for number of days and day of week. For instance, if the vendor only reported 10 sale days in June 2003, and those sale days included three Saturdays (the best sale day each week), then only the data for 10 sale days in June 2004 (composed of three Saturdays and 7 weekdays) was included in the analysis. The dates from 2003 and 2004 were also matched by date as closely as possible (for instance, first Tuesday to first Tuesday, etc.).
Objective #3: Increase the number of local commercial and institutional establishments using locally grown or manufactured products by 50%.
Outcome: A survey of 12 local restaurants in the north and central Santa Rosa County area indicated 58% use local produce whenever possible, a number that has not changed significantly over the two years. The south end of the county, which is primarily a coastal beach area, was not surveyed because of lack of distribution venues for local produce in this area.
The intended method for this portion of the project was to establish and online crop booking component on the Riverwalk Market or Santa Rosa Fresh website. While the market manager did begin posting listings of available produce in 2004, the crop booking component turned out to be an impractical idea for the area at this time. Only one of the 9 regular vendors in 2004 had Internet access, and none expressed interest in using the Internet for this purpose. All vendors were selling out on most market days and had little excess produce. The ones who did have excess produce had curb markets, grocery stores and small local restaurants who would buy the excess. In addition, most of the small local restaurants most likely to use local produce did not want to use an Internet booking service.
In spite of these challenges, we did see an increase in the number of local businesses using locally grown produce. (These same difficulties are magnified for institutional use of locally grown produce, and no progress was made in this area.)
In order to encourage the use of local produce by local businesses, the Riverwalk Market manager talked with different restaurants and with interested farmers about local produce distribution. These conversations were one on one and intended to gather information about what was needed to entice more restaurants to use more local produce. Two main issues were quickly evident in these conversations: supply and distribution. Historically, produce farmers in Santa Rosa County have focused on the spring and early summer season and grown very few fall crops. While restaurants are interested in using local produce, the short season availability discourages many and can potentially cause restaurants to lose discount deals with year-round providers such as SYSCO.
Another problem is the lack of local distribution routes for local produce. Many farmers are willing to grow the produce but have no interest in also “driving peddling routes.” One farmer of all active produce farmers in the county currently drives such routes.
However, we have recently talked to SYSCO about including local produce on their trucks through a program similar to their new “Alabama Grown” program. We are now in the planning stages of this program for our region.
The primary vehicle for Santa Rosa Fresh produce has been the Riverwalk Market in downtown Milton, the county seat of Santa Rosa County. For this reason, all Santa Rosa Fresh advertising and promotions were in conjunction with the Riverwalk Market.
In May of 2003 the Riverwalk Market, the county’s first managed farmers’ market, opened in Milton, Florida. The Grand Opening was celebrated with a ceremony including producers, local dignitaries, and the new market’s first customers. To prepare for the opening, Sustainable Community Innovation Grant dollars were used to advertise on three local radio stations, to erect a billboard, and to prepare and distribute flyers, signs and a newsletter to local businesses. A Riverwalk Market website was set up on the county’s website. Promotional items for Santa Rosa Fresh were used at special events to promote local produce, including plastic bags for produce, hand-held fans for customers watching the cooking demonstrations, “Santa Rosa Fresh” stickers for produce, and refrigerator magnets to hand out to all customers. These promotional items were given out during the annual Santa Rosa County Farm Tour, which included the Riverwalk Market as one of its stops.
In 2004 the Riverwalk Market used a radio ad, a rotation of local cable ads, a billboard ad, gratis radio and newspaper announcements, and community flyers to advertise the market. The promotional items used in 2003 were also used again in 2004. Two professionally designed websites were also created to replace the county website, one specifically for the Riverwalk Market and one for Santa Rosa Fresh in general. Finally, the Agribusiness Committee, having created a logo for “Santa Rosa Fresh” in 2003, began the process of having the logo trademarked.
The 2004 Market also hosted a regular schedule of cooking demonstrations, as well as one canning and preserving demonstration. The first of these, “Cook it Like Your Grandma Did,” drew an overwhelming response from the public, with an estimated 500 attending the Market on that day. This unexpectedly large turnout became the norm for the themed cooking event days, which included “Summer Sweets and Santa Rosa Arts,” featuring sweet dishes from local produce and displays by local artists; “It’s Too Darn Hot to Cook,” featuring chilled dishes to combat the August heat; and the Fall Season Kickoff, which began the Market’s first attempt to stay open in the fall.
We used the Riverwalk Market website to provide up-to-date information on the local produce available at the Market. For customers, the online posting of available produce – as well as recipes to use the produce – has been an increasingly successful marketing tool. In a comparison of the same time period, April to July, in each year, visitors to the Riverwalk Market web site increased 168% – from 720 to 1,927. We have also posted the names, addresses, and phone numbers of local produce farmers on the website.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Outreach measures have included annual presentations on the Riverwalk Market and Santa Rosa Fresh to the Santa Rosa County Board of Commissioners, frequent news releases to local media (including radio, television, cable and print), frequent coverage of Riverwalk Market events, two annual newsletters distributed through the Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce mailings, radio and cable appearances on local stations by the Riverwalk Market manager, grand opening events at the Riverwalk Market, frequent newsletters to Riverwalk Market vendors and potential vendors, Santa Rosa County Annual Farm Tour presentations and promotional giveaways, weekly produce raffles at the Riverwalk Market.
102.7 WXBM (paid ads and in-studio interviews about upcoming events)
Cat Country 98.7 (live broadcasts from the Riverwalk Market on cooking event days)
1330 WEBY (in-studio interviews about upcoming events)
1490 WECM (event announcements on air)
Pensacola News Journal (weekly announcements of Market hours, events; multiple articles on Market)
Santa Rosa Press Gazette (weekly announcements of Market hours, events; multiple articles on Market)
Notes (paid advertising)
OnMedia – Guest on Mediacom Channel 27 “Countyline”
OnMedia – Paid ads in summer 2004
Farm Bureau Board of Directors, June 2005
Santa Rosa County Governmental Affairs Committee, May 2005
Three Rivers RC& D, April 2005
Sustainable West Florida, April 2005
Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners, February 2005
Santa Rosa County Farm Tour, July 2004
Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners, April 2004
2003 and 2004 issues of Riverwalk Market Messenger
- Through the Sustainable Community Innovation Grant and matching dollars and labor from Santa Rosa County and TEAM Santa Rosa Economic Development Council, we have accomplished the following:
– Increased name recognition of “Santa Rosa Fresh,” a pending trademark for locally grown and produced agricultural products, by 246% in two years.
– Established the Riverwalk Market, a farmers’ market in Milton, FL, and the only managed farmers’ market in the Pensacola Metropolitan area, now in its third (2005) season.
– Initiated special Market event days that showcased cooking and preserving demonstrations using fresh, local produce. These events have also included local artists and artisans, swing dance demonstrations, antique car displays, and other community affairs. With these event days, which were held at least once a month in 2004, this project has not only increased the sustainability of the agricultural sector, it has also promoted sustainable community development.
– Increased sales volume of produce at the Riverwalk Market by an estimated 97% in 2004.
– More than doubled the number of regular season vendors in 2004 (12, up from 6 in 2003).
– Increased customer attendance as well, with an estimated 500 attending the market on regular season special event days in 2004.
– Established Riverwalk Market and Santa Rosa Fresh websites.
– Published annual newsletters informing customers about the Riverwalk Market and Santa Rosa Fresh produce.
– Mailed frequent (monthly to bimonthly during market season) newsletters to Riverwalk Market vendors and potential vendors. These newsletters announced upcoming events, addressed Market administrative issues, reported on Market successes, and gave marketing tips to vendors.
– Success of the Market allowed it to remain open for much of the Fall of 2004, the only farmers’ market in the area to do so.
– Participated in Gallery Nights, a Main Street Milton event series in which downtown businesses have an evening open house in conjunction with the Santa Rosa Arts Association.
– Established an information and display table at the Market to promote downtown parks, recreation opportunities, and businesses. The Riverwalk Market website also promotes the local activities and businesses.
– Aroused an active interest in local farmers’ market in the south “beach” end of the county. The only incorporated area, the City of Gulf Breeze, has already found a site for a farmers’ market and is held back only by lack of available produce.
– The county’s efforts to promote local produce may have also had an effect on planted acreage. In 2004, 2,800 acres were planted in vegetable crops, up around 18% from the 2002 and 2003 totals of 2,400 and 2,350 acres, respectively. (These numbers exclude pecans, since 2004’s Hurricane Ivan significantly reduced pecan acreage in the county.)
– TEAM and the Agribusiness Committee worked closely with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to incorporate the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program into the market. WIC data from FDACS confirms the success indicated above: in 2002, the WIC coupon redemption rate at the Market was 31%. In 2003 and 2004, after the Market opened, that figure jumped to approximately 57%.
– In 2004, the Market Manager initiated weekly produce raffles, giving a free basket of fresh produce to the winner. Entry forms for the raffle provided us with addresses of customers, which we have used in 2005 to send out monthly postcards announcing that month’s events at the Market.
- – Three local farmers are using “Santa Rosa Fresh” logo on produce at farm stand and at Riverwalk Market.
– Customers at the Riverwalk Market frequently ask, “Is it local?”
– Riverwalk Market has become integral component of revitalization of downtown Milton, FL.
– More farmers in area are expressing interest in growing produce crops.
– TEAM Santa Rosa EDC has added a permanent position to staff, Agribusiness Manager, to focus on enhancing agricultural diversity.
– The University of West Florida, Santa Rosa County UF/IFAS Extension Office, TEAM Santa Rosa EDC, and Santa Rosa County have partnered on an alternative crop (primarily vegetables) demonstration and promotion project aimed at local farmers.
– Executive chef of highly rated local seafood restaurant is collaborating with local farmers to grow crops geared toward his menu.
– Potential distribution agreement between local farmers and SYSCO is in the planning stages.
– Residents are calling the Market to request large amounts of produce for special events such as weddings and family reunions.
– Riverwalk Market has extended its season to include the fall, even though fewer farmers grow during the fall and in spite of the setbacks of Hurricanes Ivan and (in July 2005) Dennis.
– Riverwalk Market web site provides additional promotions for farmers listed on the site.
At the end of the 2004 market season, TEAM Santa Rosa made the decision to commit resources to agribusiness and community food system development in general by contracting the Riverwalk Market manager to explore the community’s needs in agribusiness development. The need for a more comprehensive approach to revitalizing the threatened farm economy and developing a local community foods system was apparent, and the Agribusiness Committee reorganized in January 2005 according to these new priorities. In March 2005, TEAM’s Board of Directors voted to fund a permanent Agribusiness Manager position.
TEAM has determined that our agribusiness efforts should focus on the development of a viable local foods system. While we may have developed the brand and concept of “Santa Rosa Fresh,” we do not currently have the volume of vegetable crop production to comfortably support even a single farmers’ market. Specifically, we have determined that we should undertake three major projects in order to comprehensively address the local community’s food system needs: enhancement of our existing farmers’ market program; the planned development of a local and regional foods system that creates linkages between farmers, distributors, restaurants, and residents; and business education and marketing assistance for new and existing farmers.
The following are some specific areas of needed improvement:
Better recruiting of new farmers; Better education of customers on seasonality of crops.
In 2003, the market shut down after July 31 because no farmers had planted crops for an extended season. In 2004, only two farmers planted to sell beyond July 31, and only one planted in significant volume and diversity. The market stayed open with at the request of these farmers and with the promised late fall support of two farmers who planted in much smaller quantities and varieties. The smaller number of vendors and reduced variety adversely affected the perception of customers who were used to seeing as many as 14 or 15 different vendors and a full complement of produce at the market. The market’s fall season was much less successful than the summer season. (The destruction of Hurricane Ivan in September forced the early closure of the Market, although we did reopen for four Saturdays in November and December). Therefore, considerable effort needs to be directed both at encouraging more farmers to plant throughout the year and at educating consumers on the seasonal availability of crops.
More education for farmers on different marketing strategies.
There are no local cooperatives or marketing associations. No local farmers practice organic farming, community supported agriculture, or other such niche marketing strategies. This lack of marketing diversity is a significant obstacle to developing the food self-reliance of Santa Rosa County. We hope that the joint promotion project between the University of Florida and local extension and economic development agents will address this need.
Development of a local produce distribution system.
Currently there is no organized distribution of locally grown foods, nor is there any facility to handle raw vegetable processing and packaging. We are quite hopeful that the pending SYSCO distribution agreement will become a reality.
Establishment of a Small Business Development Center program customized for new and existing farmers.
While the existing USDA and Extension programs in the county address technical and some economic issues for local farmers, marketing and product development assistance is currently unavailable locally.
Grant Management Issues:
During the administrative period of this grant, we have had two different Principal Investigators, two different managers of the Riverwalk Market, and one major hurricane. Personnel changes and the hurricane presented significant communication issues for us. The personnel changes were the biggest hurdle: no one person closely involved in the day to day administration of this grant was part of the project from start to finish. While we were able to successfully meet (and in most cases, greatly exceed) our objectives, this lack of continuity in administration hindered our administration abilities. The primary lesson we have learned is that the Principal Investigator of the grant should always be the person actually doing the work funded by the grant, and that great care must be taken that there is at least one person intimately knowledgeable of the grant project who stays on board for the duration of the grant. If this is not possible, clear communication in the transfer of responsibility is essential.