Marin Organic’s marketing program is intended to keep farming and ranching in Marin County economically sustainable by creating vastly improved market access for small-scale farmers. Over the past 10 years, increases in land prices and growing marginalization from an increasingly consolidated retail sector have threatened to drive small producers out of business. Marin Organic’s pioneering efforts have led to these impacts and improvements in Marin’s agricultural community:
· 600 acres of land formerly farmed conventionally was converted to organic
· Marin Organic membership increased to 18 from 4, up 350%
· The Marin Organic label began appearing in retail stores
· The public became aware of the importance of supporting local organic growers
· Marin Organic revived a popular farmers market at Pt. Reyes Station where everything is organic and is produced within a 13 mile radius
· There was a move toward certification of grass-fed beef
Marin Organic sought to plan and implement an innovative marketing program to keep farming and ranching in the county economically sustainable by improving market access for small-scale producers. It would accomplish its objectives by developing a label designed to build market share for organic foods grown in Marin County. The label represents a combination of third-party certification, regional identification and guidelines that encourage participating farmers to consider water and soil conservation, socially just economic practices and wildlife and habitat protection. Before release of the label, the project team planned to orchestrate a public education campaign to teach consumers the benefits of buying locally grown organic products. The goal is to increase consumption of local organic products by 100%, a long stride toward preserving Marin County farms and creating a blueprint for other communities nationwide.
Using face-to-face outreach, the project increased membership in Marin Organic to 18 from 4, which meant more growers were using the Marin Organic label on their products (11,500 labels were distributed to members for use on their products in retail stores and farmers markets.)
The Pt. Reyes Farmers Market had 14 vendors in 2003, more than ever before, and more customers – about 150 each weekend, including both locals and tourists. Plans were underway to for the 2004 market.
The project also cemented good relationships with the University of California Cooperative Extension and other local farm organizations by collaborating on workshops, grant writing, newsletters, tasting events, educational events and public gatherings. Among the events were educational workshops to help farmers make the transition to organic from conventional production.
The project team helped raised $60,000 to fund a new position at the Marin County Department of Agriculture to help with organic certification. The job description includes actively encouraging farmers to implement environmentally friendly restorative projects.
Among other results of the project, Marin Organic:
· Contributed articles to the local extension newsletter and started its own newsletter
· Established with Pt. Reyes Books the Cooking West Marin Series with six Bay Area chefs demonstrating techniques and recipes using local organic produce
· Supported the Marin Organic CSA, which sold subscription boxes and ran weekly farm stands in the San Geronimo Valley
· Provided staff support to the Pt. Reyes Farmers Market
· Introduced Marin Organic signage and held tastings in six Marin retail stores in September as part of “Marin Organic Month”
· Established the Marin Organic Business Membership for retailers
· Raised $76,500 in private support to make its accomplishments possible
BENEFITS OR IMPACT ON AGRICULTURE
The funding of a new organic certifier for Marin County will help more growers become certified, increasing the number of acres in organic agriculture, which, the project report said, will benefit growers “by keeping farming infrastructure local, cheap and accessible.” It also benefits the community by reducing conventional acres and increasing the volume of fresh, local, organic produce.
“By increasing the viability of sustainable agriculture,” the project report said, “we decreased pollution, decreased pesticide risk and increased biodiversity. By keeping environmentally friendly agriculture thriving, we show other communities how they can do it too.”
As stated above, membership in Marin Organic increased to 18 from 4. Further, more producers are selling at the Pt. Reyes Farmers Market, which is increasing the market’s customer base.
Public membership increased to 11 “Organic Heroes” (donors of $1,000) and to 90 “Friends of Marin Organic.” The group was slated to make four to seven appeals to major donors ($5,000 or more) and freshen its “Friends” appeal.
The project team participated in “Organic Lunch Day” at Linwood School in Novato, feeding local organic lunches to more than 200 school children.
In addition, the team helped Steve Quirt of the local ag department office create a list of participating farmers, food distributors, outlets and retail stores, and it contributed articles to the UC Cooperative Extension newsletter.