Bay Area Agricultural Cooperative

Final Report for FW03-105

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $13,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
John Lagier
Lagier Ranches
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

The Bay Area Farmers Association, or BAFA, was created by farmers for farmers to
develop cooperative ways of working together. BAFA brings the benefits of expanded

market ability, shared resources and improved communication t o each other and to
their farms. After our original Western SARE award, BAFA will continue to be
supported by farmerlmarket producer, business and individual memberships.
<br><br>
After a steering committee met several times, BAFA was organized as an
unincorporated association. We are a membership based, grower group currently with
17 farmer members and one supporting member. We appointed a Board of Directors
and have held two Board meetings. We have produced a website and an informational
brochure. We are now actively looking f o r new members and exploring potential
locations for a common distribution dock. Our first Annual Membership Meet in is
scheduled for April 2005, during which we will present other opportunities for this
organization. That may include proposals for re-organization as a farmer cooperative or
educational non-profit organization, discussion about collaborating with other
sustainable agriculture groups and expansion of marketing opportunities for members.
<br><br>
Since we hired our Project Administrator, developed our materials and began outreach
to other producers, the Bay Area farmers' market and restaurant community has
expressed growing interest and enthusiasm to support us. We anticipate that with
increased membership, our influence will expand along with ou ability to serve the
needs of our members and the community.
<br><br>
BAFA's fulfillment of its mission will be an ongoing work in progress for the immediate
future and with the of commitment of its members, its goal to increase the viability,
productivity and time spent farming for Bay Area farmers is sure to be achieved.

Introduction

See Summary

Project Objectives:

Originally proposed as the Bay Area Agricultural Cooperative as a collaboration
between CUESA (the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) and
the producers and cooperators of the original grant, The Bay Area Farmers Association emerged after the CUESA Board of Directors decided not to endorse the collaboration.
With approval from the Western Region SARE Program, the Bay Area Farmers
Association adopted many of the same goals as originally proposed for the cooperative.
<br><br>
The objectives that were re-approved include: establishing a method of communication
between farmers, and farmers and markets; encouraging direct farmer to restaurant
sales by working with existing organizations; encouraging the sharing of resources
such as labor, transportation and cold storage; and helping facilitate the connection
between farmers and customers.

Research

Materials and methods:

See summary

Research results and discussion:

BAFA is still in its formative stage and its true impact is yet to be realized. Potentially, its feasible for BAFA to be the first organization of its kind in this area to offer such a wide
range of benefits to its members and to have such a broad and diverse base of membership. No other grower group in this region offers the advantage of a common distribution dock or the uniqueness of a network of supporting members to provide services of all kinds to farmer members and to provide restaurant and other supporting members with such a broad resource of direct market farmers.
<br><br>
When the website is fully functioning, the communication possible for members will add to the efficiency of on and off farm projects, as well as the efficiency and extent of marketing to restaurants. Restaurants will be able to find farm fresh produce and connect with farmers and farmers will more easily identify potential restaurant customers.
<br><br>
It is completely possible that each farm member who wants to increase its restaurant deliveries, could easily add more new restaurant accounts to their customer base.
<br><br>
Another benefit that could be realized is the strength of a unified voice of a grower group in ongoing regulatory and policy discussions. There is a need for revised direct marketing regulations in California and as BAFA develops its communications abilities, its members' opinions can be expressed by the organization in collaboration with other regional sustainable agriculture groups, strengthening the position advocating for change that ultimately benefits the farmers directly.
<br><br>
Also coming in the near future is the need for farmers of all sizes and in all regions all around the country to participate in the changes in national farm policy in the upcoming Farm Bill of 2007. As strategy conversations are beginning now, just as BAFA is growing its member base, BAFA will be able to contribute to changing major agricultural policy. This may not have an immediate or direct impact to members, but as regulatory changes occur at the state and then the local level, any successes that
benefit sustainable agriculture and direct market farmers will also benefit BAFA farmers. BAFA members will then be able to experience the impact of their organization in a much larger context.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We have recently completed production of an eye-catching four-color tri-fold brochure that we are using to promote the organization as well as secure new members. It contains information about our reason for being, our mission statement, membership criteria, benefits and services and a membership application. It is designed as a self-
mailer and the membership application can be filled in, cut out and mailed along with membership fees directly to our office.
<br><br>
This January, BAFA i s exhibiting publicly for the first time in the new Exhibitor Tent at the Ecological Farming Conference in Pacific Grove, California. We will have a poster, signage, our brochures and a clipboard for people to sign up for more nformation. During a Conference reception in the Tent our Project Administrator and other BAFA members will be present to talk about the organization and receive new membership applications. We will follow up after the Conference with all who expressed interest.
<br><br>
Our most valuable communication and outreach vehicle is our website. Still in development is the password-protected, members-only bulletin board and discussion forum and our web page with links to resources that will be valuable to members. Also coming is a frequently maintained news column with references to articles, event
listings, marketing and grant opportunities for members, and other information that will ultimately increase the profitability of BAFA members.
<br><br>
Also under consideration is production of a sign for BAFA members t o display at their stalls in farmers markets. The sign will communicate to customers the farm's membership in BAFA and will be an excellent tool to attract supporting members as well as educating the public about how the organization benefits the farms and in turn, benefits them.
<br><br>
As we move into the spring months and as BAFA1s membership grows, we will be actively working with the media for exposure and publicity. As our activity and collaborations become more visible, BAFA will quickly become known to the community it serves and will become a valuable asset to all of its members and their customers

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

When our major cooperator decided the timing was not right to endorse our project,
we were forced to create a new strategy that would produce the same results. After the
reorganization of the project title and objectives and hiring our new Project
Administrator in March 2004, the Bay Area Farmers Association (BAFA) began to take
shape. The first task was to create the legal structure of the organization. We
determined that for the immediate needs and purposes of the group, the best model
was a membership-based, unincorporated association. This could be accomplished
inexpensively and relatively quickly. We didn't completely abandon the idea of a
farmers' cooperative and will revisit it in the future.
<br><br>
We created a Board of Directors, wrote a mission statement and bylaws, held our first
Board meeting and began the discussion of priorities for the organization. We agreed
that building membership was the most important, short term objective and having a
strong member base would enable us to continue pursuing our goals long after our
initial grant from SARE was spent.
<br><br>
During the summer and fall months, BAFA grew to 18 members. To fulfill our first
objective, to establish a method of communication between farmers, we first designed
a logo, then designed and wrote content for our website which is now functional. The
website, the primary communication tool for the organization, provides information
about us, how we began, criteria for membership, a description of member benefits and
services, a list of members and our Board, a partial list of the restaurants served by
some of our members, and an up-to-date listing of events in which BAFA is
participating.
<br><br>
Still in the works is finding the right location for our "friendly dock", a common
distribution center for our member farms to use to drop off product for local markets
and restaurant accounts, and for restaurant members and customers to use to pick up
their orders. Many locations have been explored but haven't been the right place at the
right time. We continue to keep up the search and hope to have our dock identified
this summer.
<br><br>
Since the time CLIESA withdrew their participation, their staff has turned over again
and as of this writing, new staff positions and personnel have not been decided. We
have been talking to some CU ESA staff members about a new collaboration after their
reorganization is complete and have received very positive and open response.
<br><br>
During this entire process, the challenges have been all surmountable, but time
consuming. The greatest tangible obstacle has been the completion of the website and
the members-only bulletin board. In dealing with outside contractors we have been
vulnerable to their schedules and setbacks, too. For instance, the company that hosts our website is switching servers and it has been filled with glitches for them, and in
turn, for us.
<br><br>
The greatest intangible obstacle has been determining how to best serve our members
priorities, which are not the same for everyone. One member wants a stronger voice in
dealing with farmers' market management, yet market management has not been
willing to include our Project Administrator in meetings, as a representative of BAFA
members.
<br><br>
We firmly believe that with more members, our voice will carry further and our
organization will have greater impact and rewards.
<br><br>
Overall, we are very pleased with the results so far, with our growing membership,
with word of mouth about BAFA expanding exponentially and with our increased
visibility. We have moved slowly, but methodically and we are all confident in the
sustainability of our organization and its ability to achieve its objectives.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Now that BAFA has its informational brocliure to leave in a potential member's hand, and a live website for people to visit, new memberships are beginning to come much more quickly. Many interested, but as yet, uncommitted farmers are waiting for the
warmer months when their incomes are higher and their needs for the services BAFA offers are more immediate.
<br><br>
The credibility of the organization is strengthened with each new member. As the primary membership solicitor, our Project Administrator reports that the primary reason that some farmers are not joining BAFA, is because they are already doing for
themselves, what BAFA can do for them. Many have requested discounted health insurance as a good reason to join. Another expressed the interest in having BAFA help h im help change direct market regulations. Overall, farmers see the potential and
recognize all the good reasons to be part of a new organization, support its mission and contribute to its success. We expect to at least double our 18-member roster by this summer.
<br><br>
Already inspired by BAFAJs intentions, three of our member producers are exploring the possibility of creating a permanent retail market as a location for farmers to sell directly to restaurants and to the public. If they are successful in this project, there are
possible opportunities for BAFA as well, especially a location for a common dock.

Future Recommendations

As BAFA is so new, we are in the process of discovery about what will emerge as our greatest benefits to producer members and that will lead to methods that would work better for us and other similar projects. We have learned thus far that the importance
of open and productive communication between producer and farmers market management is critical to our members' success. A recommendation would be to support producer members to establish links between market management and their organization (in this case, BAFA) so that a representative of the organization can represent them, as a group, in market management discussions. Many markets will communicate only with producers directly, lessening the weight of many producers speaking with a single voice.
<br><br>
Western SARE could make projects like ours more effective by more clearly defining criteria for market-oriented projects in SARE Request for Proposals. The value of the relationship of farmers and producers to their markets, including farmers markets, wholesale distribution, direct to retail or restaurants and CSAs, are opportunities to sustain economic viability on the farm and to expand agricultural sustainability.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.