The Food Alliance’s mission is to promote increased adoption of sustainable agriculture practices using market-based incentives. The tool we use to accomplish our mission is our seal of approval, Food Alliance Approved. This seal of approval is awarded to farmers who meet our standards in three areas: soil and water conservation, pest and disease management, and human resource management. Farmers who meet The Food Alliance’s standards label their products as Food Alliance Approved. Consumers who want to support these farmers can then do so by purchasing these products preferentially in the marketplace.
Through this project, Farmers Growing the Market with TFA Approved, we sought to provide marketing training and resources for approved farmers so that they could fully take advantage of the benefits of our program and the seal’s appeal to consumers. We also aimed to increase consumer awareness and support of the seal of approval, as well as sustainable agriculture more generally.
The training and resources we provided as part of this project, including point of sale materials, marketing consultations, and customized marketing pieces for approved farms, resulted in increased product sales by Food Alliance Approved farmers. In some instances, the products demanded a higher value, while in others, market share and market opportunities were greater as a result of participation in the program.
As a result of these engaging marketing efforts, and the increased presence of Food Alliance Approved products in the marketplace, consumer awareness of our program and sustainable agriculture practices increased from 8% to 24% in participating retail markets. These same efforts also earned The Food Alliance extensive media attention and boosted awareness in the Northwest and nationally.
Also on the national front, the success of The Food Alliance program caught the attention of farmers in the Midwest, and catalyzed a partnership between The Food Alliance and a project called Food Choices. Together, we created The Midwest Food Alliance, and are sharing many of our materials and strategies with our Midwest partners as they move forward using our program as a model.
Farmers Growing the Market with TFA Approved outlined action on three fronts:
1. First, the TFA Approved program provides farmers with marketing training and resources. TFA Approved farmers develop customized marketing materials with TFA staff, participate in professional media training, connect with consumers and retailers through farm tours and special events, create an online presence and network for their farm, and share lessons learned with other farmers at TFA grower meetings and events.
2. At the same time, The Food Alliance sets the stage for farmers’ marketing efforts through regional public awareness campaigns aimed at cultivating conscious consumers and retailers. In doing so, we harness the purchasing power of shoppers increasingly receptive to farmers’ messages, and who demand greater access to healthy food and information about how it was produced.
3. Finally, TFA farmers will share success stories and results of our project at TFA grower meetings, agricultural conferences, in online forums, and through their own marketing networks. TFA staff will share project strategies and impacts online, through networks such as SAN and WSAWG, in print publications, and directly with our members and collaborators regionally and nationally.
The point-of-sale materials, marketing consultations, and customized marketing pieces developed with and for Food Alliance Approved farms were created with extensive input from our participating agricultural and retail partners. As a result, the messages our banners, flyers, and other retail outreach pieces conveyed were succinct and engaging, and appealed to consumers in stores and farmers’ markets, as well as at farm stands.
These marketing products and services were used successfully by participating farmers, who indicated their satisfaction with the program in program evaluations. In response to the feedback we received in a 2000 survey of growers, we created additional materials and devoted more staff resources to farmers markets in 2001. And our core retail partner, the 29-store Thriftway group of retailers, dramatically increased the visibility of Food Alliance marketing materials in their stores in 2001.
The success of these materials and services and the strength of our retail partnerships encouraged and increased grower participation in our program. The number of farmers and ranchers approved by The Food Alliance increased from 49 to 84 during the grant period. Sales of Food Alliance Approved products were estimated at $5 million in 2000, whereas for 1999 they were approximately $2 million.
Our second objective was to increase consumer awareness and support of Food Alliance Approved products and sustainable agriculture more generally. We are pleased with our progress on this front as well. We sought to meet this objective by educating consumers through the point-of-sale marketing materials described above, as well as through earned media, booths in farmers markets and at trade shows, and through a variety of community, regional, and national events.
Consumer awareness surveys in participating retail partner stores and farmers markets indicate that awareness of our program and issues of sustainability increased two fold from August 2000 to July 2001. The significant attendance and national media attention garnered by our Ecolabel Conference in October 2000 established The Food Alliance as a leader in the certification and sustainable agriculture marketing arena. Anecdotal evidence, such as The Oregonian article that concluded in its investigative article of the proliferation of ecolabels that, “The Food Alliance, based in Portland, Ore., is often mentioned as a model of what eco labeling should be” further supports the evidence of The Food Alliance Approved program’s success.
The obvious benefits of this project and The Food Alliance program for agricultural producers are an increased capacity on the part of farmers to market their products, increased market opportunities, and increasingly higher prices sustainably grown products can demand.
Additionally, increased consumer awareness of the Food Alliance Approved label and increased understanding of the benefits of sustainable agriculture translate into increased profits for sustainably managed farming operations, as consumers choose sustainably grown products preferentially in the marketplace.
As clearly indicated by the increase in farmer participation in our program, the success of The Food Alliance program and increased consumer demand for sustainably grown food products encourages increased adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. As more farmers realize the economic advantages of meeting The Food Alliance standards for sustainable agriculture, they will make changes to conserve soil and water, reduce reliance on pesticides and herbicides, and improve working conditions for farm workers.
We can quantify our program’s impact on agriculture in a number of ways. In economic terms, we are providing increased market share and, increasingly, higher prices for products bearing the seal of approval. These market incentives are, in turn, encouraging more farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices in order to become Food Alliance Approved and reap those same marketplace rewards.
For many small family farmers, these marketplace rewards represent the increased margin allowing them to remain in business. While it is difficult to quantify the impact beyond the economic benefit to agricultural producers participating in our program, the commodity-specific standards our site inspectors use to evaluate a farm’s practices reflect the measures being taken to manage our region’s natural and human resources sustainably. And the success of our program is clearly reflected in the 1,117,107 acres in the Northwest that are being managed sustainably and in accordance with The Food Alliance’s standards.
Farmers in the Northwest are struggling to compete in the global marketplace. This project is creating demand for locally grown products and providing opportunities for agricultural producers to communicate to consumers about their efforts to operate sustainably. As a result, we are seeing improved on farm practices that benefit the environment and our communities.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The staff of The Food Alliance presented our program and the work of this project through 33 speaking engagements and events throughout the country since the grant period commenced. We shared our marketing materials and worked with farmers to market Food Alliance Approved products in 34 retail outlets throughout Oregon and SW Washington and five farmers markets in the Portland metropolitan area.
The Food Alliance hosted a National Ecolabel Conference in Portland in October 2000 and a Growers’ Dinner and Annual Growers’ Meeting in January 2001, during which we shared extensive information on our program and this project and solicited detailed feedback and ideas from participating growers and other partners.
The Food Alliance was featured in 42 in local, regional, and national publications during the grant period. The most prominent pieces included The New York Times, The Oregonian, as well as Good Housekeeping and National Public Radio, with circulations ranging from 11,000 to over 5,000,000. In all articles and interviews, we endeavored to highlight the efforts of our farmers on behalf of sustainability as well as the marketing tools they are employing to convey their message of sustainability to consumers. A summary of media coverage and selected articles is attached to this report.
As mentioned earlier, we began the grant period with 49 producers. During the grant period, an additional 42 producers applied to our program and 40 were approved. This represents an increase in program participation of over 80%. A number of farmers participating in the program adopted new methods of marketing their farm and their products, including printed brochures, banners, and flyers in farmers markets and customized farm features and profiles online. All of these methods served to encourage consumers to seek out these farms and products in retail stores, farmers markets, and at farm stands and U Picks.
Specific examples of on-farm practices that changed as a result of our program include: Baggenstos Farm created new forms and processes for recording and maintaining farm data with accuracy and applicability. These forms include an irrigation log, weed maps, scouting reports, pesticide use reporting, and sprayer calibration. The Baggenstos also did extensive tree planting to stabilize stream banks.
Another example of our program in action is that of Food Alliance Approved Rocky Ridge Ranch, which implemented tracking of herd health, medication, and other individual information about the animals via colored/numbered tags.
While the ranch seeks to minimize herbicide applications each year, those herbicides used on the ranch this year were mixed short so there would be no remaining tank mix to dispose of. All containers were triple rinsed, the rinsate used up, and the containers taken to an approved disposal facility. In addition, crop and hay production sites were closely monitored and a record kept of all inputs and production. This information is used to judge and adjust management of these areas.
Following is a selection of remarks shared by Food Alliance Approved farmers and ranchers, our participating cooperators on this grant. The remarks were provided through our annual growers’ survey after the 2000 growing season.
Annala, Annala Orchards, Inc.: “TFA membership helped motivate me to adopt a more sustainable form of farm management and to keep the principles of integrated fruit production in mind”
Jeff and Cheryl Boden, West Union Gardens: “Our sales were slightly more than in 1999. We cultivated more markets than we can use in 2001. In my business I must deliver my berries and that is the limiting factor. No matter how The Food Alliance markets me, it’s all very local for us.”
Bradbury, Oregon Country Beef: “I feel that The Food Alliance will help our enterprise by providing a forum to evaluate, maintain and improve our production standards, and product quality.”
Chris and Ryan Brown, Angel Valley Farms: “We sold approximately $5,000 worth of products to Charles Keller at Unified Western Grocers (Food Alliance Approved distributor partner). And we learned more about eco labels and how to improve our operation.”
Lee Chapman, Naturally Okanogan: “TFA is a resource for exposure to wholesale distribution.”
Bob Egger, Delta Farms: “The Food Alliance is another too/ available to the farmer to aid in marketing their crops. We did not see as much benefit as hoped this past year, be we do believe it will get stronger.”
Al Garre, Garre Farms: “Unified Western Grocers used The Food Alliance program, so I was able to retain their business.”
Lon Inaba, Inaba Produce: “We felt good about what we were doing for workers, soil and water conservation, and reduced pesticide use.”
Mike Locati, Locati Farms: “The Food Alliance opened new markets and set my produce apart as something different in the marketplace”
Ken Ono, Ono’s Farm: “Only Unified Western Grocers have asked specifically for Food Alliance Approved leaf lettuce items.”
Andy Rivelli, Rivelli Farms: “We sell the majority of our crops to Unified Western Grocers. Several other farmers who also sold to UWG did not join The Food Alliance so UWG did not buy from them. As a result, we were able to sell more of our fall and winter crops to them than in the past years.”
Eugene and Eileen Thiel, Prairie Creek Farm: “We had good use of Food Alliance banners and labels
and got good consumer response.”
Bob Underwood, Sandy Farms, lnc.: “The Food Alliance is a resource for my customers to gain knowledge about sustainable farming practices.”
84 farmers and ranchers are currently Food Alliance Approved. When our project began, we had approved 49 producers, and approved an additional 40 by the conclusion of this funding period, July 14, 2001 (five growers did not re apply). In addition, our program’s range of approved commodities increased significantly as well, including approving Willakenzie Estates, the first vineyard to meet The Food Alliance’s standards for sustainable wine grape production, and an Eastern Washington grain grower using direct seeding methods.
Producer enthusiasm for our program is reflected in the number of farmers and ranchers attending:
Workshops (Annual Growers’ Meeting): 60
Conferences (Ecolabel Conference October 2000): 230
Field Days (Woods Melon Day, Farm Fest, other tours?): 135
Other Events (Commodity meetings, growers groups): 110
Areas needing additional study
For future endeavors that share our project’s objectives, our recommendations would include involving leaders in the retail marketplace in the creation of in-store, point-of-sale marketing materials. By doing so during this project, we had the advantage of knowing what materials fit best in the retail environment, and benefited from the experience of produce department staff relationships with distributors and consumers.