Fresh, From Our Family to Yours: Direct Marketing Education for Producers

Final Report for SW04-058

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $98,395.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Molly Johnson
PlacerGROWN
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

This project provided Placer County producers with education and resources to identify, address and cultivate new markets. Project activities provided farmers with the resources to develop new marketing channels, increase promotional efforts and build relationships with the local community. The goals for this project were to increase farm sales and annual sales at the farmers’ markets by 20-25 percent, sell local produce to at least two school districts in the county, market to at least ten local restaurants, double the number of CSAs, and sell produce to at least one large institution such as a hospital or community college.

Project Objectives:

• Generate descriptive list and annotated bibliography of new marketing opportunities for Placer County farmers and ranchers
• Develop and conduct 100-150 producer and consumer surveys
• Showcase innovative and successful marketing ideas and models at the PlacerGROWN Farm Conference
• Conduct an opening retreat for producers to generate and prioritize ideas for expanding direct marketing opportunities
• Perform research on available resource materials for workshop development
• Organize four farmer-to-farmer networking meetings annually to promote relationship building and develop project collaborations
• Design and deliver eight in-depth marketing workshops for producers on how to meet the needs and requirements of consumers and produce buyers and monitor impact
• Design, test and update, and utilize program evaluation measures
• Produce and disseminate Report of Findings

Introduction:

As the fastest growing county in the state, Placer County has experienced unprecedented population growth, resulting in relentless development pressure which threatens our agricultural land. For example, two planned university campuses have just been approved, resulting in over 2000 acres of agricultural land being removed from the Williamson Act. In the nearby City of Lincoln, the population recently jumped by 44% in one year, reflecting a suburbanization trend that is relegating once fertile farmlands to be replaced by subdivisions and strip malls. As a result, a dwindling proportion of our residents are connected to the land and our local food systems and understand their significance.

In order to maintain agriculture as an economically viable endeavor, PlacerGROWN, the Foothill Farmers Market Association and local producers need to step up their efforts to increase attendance and sales at local farmers markets and farm stands as well as identify marketing channels beyond these two outlets. Local producers need marketing resources to get their produce into local restaurants, schools, institutions and grocery stores.

This project work ed with producers to identify, address and cultivate new markets and to market themselves as sources of agricultural products of superior flavor and freshness in the county’s suburban centers and beyond. Project activities provided farmers with the resources to develop new marketing channels, increase promotional efforts and build relationship with the local community to attain the goals of the project. A primary goal for this project was to increase farm sales and annual sales at the farmers’ markets by 20-25 percent. Other project goals included selling local produce to at least two school districts in the county, marketing to at least ten local restaurants, doubling the number of CSAs in the county and selling produce to at least one large institution such as the county jail, a hospital, the local community college or corporate cafeteria. The project made significant strides towards achieving these goals, and with these new opportunities, the economic viability of local agriculture will improve, increasing the resiliency of the agricultural community to development pressures, thereby preserving the community’s quality of life.

Research

Materials and methods:

• Generate descriptive list and annotated bibliography of new marketing opportunities for Placer County farmers and ranchers

The manual Collaborative Community Supported Agriculture: A New Direct Marketing Opportunity for Placer County Producers was developed after PlacerGROWN worked with local producers to pilot, develop and operate a collaborative CSA.

• Develop and conduct 100-150 producer and consumer surveys

An initial producer survey was conducted and the information from the survey was used to identify which marketing channels farmers were most interested in. This information was used to develop projects, resources, and workshops to provide information on how to access those markets. PlacerGROWN has developed several projects to provide growers with technical assistance to develop new marketing channels and evaluations have been developed and implemented to assess the effectiveness of the projects. For example, PlacerGROWN organized a short course on how to start and manage a Community Supported Agriculture project. Growers that attended the short course completed an evaluation of the course and the instructor. In addition, an evaluation of the farm conference workshops was also conducted in order to inform planning for future conferences.

• Showcase innovative and successful marketing ideas and models at the PlacerGROWN Farm Conference

Over the three years of the project, we showcased innovative and successful marketing ideas and models at our annual conference in keynote presentations an dworkshops. For example, the 2007 PlacerGROWN Farm Conference featured Paul Muller of Full Belly Farm, a 200-acre certified organic farm located in the Capay Valley of Northern California, as the keynote speaker. Full Belly grows and markets over 80 different crops through wholesale and retail marketing channels. They sell to restaurants, at farmers’ markets and through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. Both the CSA and the farmers’ markets forge a direct connection between the farm and the people who buy and eat its produce. Paul gave an inspiring keynote and address and conducted a workshop titled “How to Choose Varieties.”

Below is a list and descriptions of the Agritourism and Direct-Marketing workshops presented at the 2007 PlacerGROWN Farm Conference

Agritourism

Workshop Title: Four Decades of Harvest Memories
Presenter(s): Wayne Bishop
Description: Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm, Inc., in Wheatland has been recognized as one of the most successful agri-tourism operation in North America. Wayne Bishop will describe not just the successes, but the challenges and outright failures the family business has encountered. The presentation will focus on the importance of creating a total experience, which will bring guests and profits to the farm.

Workshop Title: Increase Revenue During the Growing Season with Agritourism
Presenter(s): Nancyjo Riekse
Agricultural tourism is an exciting alternative for improving the incomes and potential economic viability of small farms and rural communities. Agricultural tourism bridges urban and rural dwellers – bringing the two together in creative and rewarding way. This workshop will cover a variety of forms of agri-tourism including fairs, festivals, school tours, education adult programs, farm stays, and day trip tours.

Marketing

Workshop Title: Selling to Whole Foods
Presenter(s): Manuel Aviala
Description: Whole Foods Market’s has a commitment to support local agriculture. Each of their stores strives to offer produce and meats that are locally grown or raised, and build relationships with local vendors who employ sustainable practices. Manuel Aviala, Head Regional Produce Buyer for Whole Foods Markets, will discuss how growers can explore the potential for selling to Whole Foods Market.

Workshop Title: Branding Your Farm
Presenter(s): Tina May and Rebecca Toedter, All About Design
Description: Tina May and Rebecca Toedter of All About Design will present Branding 101. They will cover the importance of branding your farm through logo’s, newsletters, recipes, t-shirts and more.

Workshop Title: PlacerGROWN Collaborative Community Supported Agriculture CSA Project
Presenter(s): Molly Johnson and Jocelyn Maddux
Description: During the summer of 2006, PlacerGROWN worked with several local farmers to pilot and explore the feasibility of developing a collaborative CSA marketed as the PlacerGROWN Harvest Box. Subscribers received weekly deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables at their workplace with the option of ordering meat and eggs. In this workshop the presenters will dsicuss the program, how it was implemented and plans for the future.

Workshop Title: Selling the Whole Truckload and Extreme Makeovers for Farm Stands
Presenter(s): Gail Hayden, California Federation of Farmers’ Markets
Description: In this workshop you will learn to maximize your farmers’ market or farm stand sales through effective stall set-up and layout, product selection, product merchandising, pricing and signage. Discover sales techniques that help create and maintain a solid customer base. An amazing collection of photos of farmers’ market stalls that have been transformed to increase sales and leave a lasting impression with customers will be presented along with simple techniques that will bring your more customers and increase sales.

Workshop Title: Growing for Your Market, You Can’t Eat Net Worth
Presenter(s): Kurt and Carol Albrecht
Description: Kurt and Carol will share their 20 year journey from the “booms and busts” of popular agriculture to the stability of direct marketing. Along the way they will impart lessons learned and the program they have developed for living a low stress, sustainable lifestyle supported by a family farm. For 75 years, their farm, Chaffin Family Orchards has been producing products naturally and marketing them directly from the farm. This is food that tastes as it should; fruits are picked daily and never kept in cold storage, animals live in healthy, natural environments on clean pastures producing exceptional, grass fed, beef, lamb, chevon, poultry and eggs. Our unique location allows us to produce orchard fruits year around. Our heritage varieties of stone fruits and citrus have been selected for taste and sweetness. Our animals are kept on clean grass pastures. In addition to pasture, our poultry receives certified organic feeds. The livestock and poultry work together to help us manage the orchards, providing natural land clearing, pest control and fertilization. This symbiosis allows us to improve the land and add to it while raising crops and livestock that improve health. Our attention to detail and refusal to cut corners is the reason people have enjoyed Chaffin Products for so many years. They also sell at several area farmers’ markets.

During the project we recognized the need to more effectively engage the local community in supporting small, family farms in Placer County and as a result the format of PlacerGROWN’s annual conference was modified to involve the local community. The title of the conference was changed to the PlacerGROWN Food & Farm Conference and a strand of four workshops titled “Eat Local! Connecting with Your Local Food System” was added to the program. The workshops offered information on the nutritional benefits of a local, seasonal diet, cooking tips and sources of fresh, local, in-season produce, meat, wine and value-added products. Outreach to supporting organizations including Slow Food, Locavores , a local food coop and edible SACRAMENTO magazine helped us draw new participants and develop local ag supporters.

• Conduct an opening retreat for producers to generate and prioritize ideas for expanding direct marketing opportunities

A producer steering committee was formed, and the opening retreat was conducted in 2005. Annual meetings were held in 2006 and 2007. The steering committee provided overall guidance to the project and provided resources, input and support to meet project objectives. They assisted with the development and implementation of action plans to cultivate new marketing channels and develop strategies for providing farmers with the resources to cultivate those channels. A list of the project activities that the farmer steering committee developed as a means of providing them with the resources to develop new marketing channels, increase promotional efforts and build relationships with the local community can be found in the Results and Discussion/Milestones section.

• Perform research on available resource materials for workshop development

Extensive research to identify experts in the field as presenters and educational resources was conducted during the development of each workshop and farmer-to-farmer networking meetings.

• Organize four farmer-to-farmer networking meetings annually to promote relationship building and develop project collaborations

During the project we conducted a total of 16 meeting that provided the opportunity for farmers to learn from other farmers, agricultural professionals and experts. In addition, these meetings resulted in the development of innovative projects and productive collaborations.

March 6, 2005 Opening Steering Committee Retreat
May 2, 2005 Farmer Networking Meeting, Randy Kliewer, How to Sell Local Produce, Meat, Wine, and Other Farm Products to Food Retailers and Restaurants
June 20, 2005 Farmer Networking Meeting, Opening Retreat Follow-Up and Planning Meeting
September 12, 2005 Farmer and Restaurateur Networking Meeting, Placer County Wines and Dines Tasting Event

November 16, 2005 – Farmer Networking Meeting, How to Start and Operate a CSA
January 9, 2006 – Farmer and Restaurateur Networking Meeting, Wines and Dines follow-up
January 10, 2006 – Farmer Networking Meeting, CSA Short-Course Session 1
January 17, 2006 – Farmer Networking Meeting, CSA Short-Course Session 2
January 24, 2006 – Farmer Networking Meeting, CSA Short-Course Session 3
January 31, 2006 – Farmer Networking Meeting, CSA Short-Course Session 4
February 26, 2006 – Annual Steering Committee Meeting
May 10, 2006 – Farmer Networking Meeting, Thad Barsotti
June 10, 2006 – Farmer Networking Meeting, $elling the Whole Truckload, Gail Hayden
November 7, 2006 – Farmer Networking Meeting, Collaborative CSA
January 18, 2007 – Farmer Networking Meeting, Collaborative CSA
May 7, 2007 – Farmer Networking Meeting, Local Food Center

• Design and deliver eight in-depth marketing workshops for producers on how to meet the needs and requirements of consumers and produce buyers and monitor impact

Eight workshops were featured at the 2007 PlacerGROWN Food and Farm Conference. The workshop descriptions are listed above. An additional four workshops were developed in order to provide the community with resources to buy direct from local, family farms and the health, environmental and economic benefits of supporting local agriculture.

• Design, test and update, and utilize program evaluation measures
An evaluation plan has been developed. Evaluations are distributed and collected at each workshop and networking meeting and the information is reviewed and taken into consideration when formulating subsequent meetings.

• Produce and disseminate Report of Findings

The manual, Collaborative Community Supported Agriculture: A New Direct Marketing Opportunity for Placer County Producers, was produced and is available by contacting PlacerGROWN.

Research results and discussion:

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – After successfully piloting a collaborative CSA in 2006, the participating farmers and ranchers expressed interested in continuing and expanding the project. In 2007 PlacerGROWN assisted growers with implementing the second season of the collaborative CSA. During the second season, PlacerGROWN and local farmers and ranchers offered the PlacerGROWN Harvest Box, a weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables from farms in Placer County for the second season, doubling both the number of customers from 25 to 50 and the length of the season from eight weeks to 16 weeks for a total delivery of 739 boxes. A targeted marketing effort was launched to workplaces including County of Placer, Kaiser Hospital, Sierra College and City of Roseville employees in order to make delivery and outreach more efficient. We reached new customers who do not normally shop at local farmers’ markets and farmers reported that several subscribers came to visit them at the farmers’ market because they were so happy with the product they got from them in the box. A survey was conducted at the end of the season, 43 responses Sixty-five percent of subscribers loved the box. 63% said they would subscribe again next season and 23% said maybe. 95% said getting the box was very convenient or convenient.

The efforts to organize the collaborative CSA were documented in the manual, Collaborative Community Supported Agriculture: A New Direct Marketing Opportunity for Placer County Producers.

Development of the Mountain Mandarin Growers’ Association –The mandarin growers of Placer County formed the Mountain Mandarin Growers Association (MMGA). PlacerGROWN assisted them with this process and worked with them to develop a logo, a website, a marketing brochure and assisted with the promotion of Placer county mandarins and the Mountain Mandarin Tour. Their website can be viewed at www.mountainmandarins.com. PlacerGROWN provided the association with assistance to trademark their logo and the term Mountain Mandarins so Placer County mandarins will be distinctly identifiable in the marketplace.

PlacerGROWN worked with the growers to obtain a grant from the Placer County Visitors Center and acted as the fiscal sponsor. PlacerGROWN received a grant in the amount of $3750 to place ads in Sunset Magazine in order to promote the Mountain Mandarin Festival and Mountain Mandarin Tours as well as the Placer Farm and Barn and the Auburn Wine Festival.

The ads ran in the September and October 2007 issues of the Northern California edition of Sunset with a circulation of 335,000. Sunset is the authority on home, travel, food, and garden–and the resource people turn to when looking for the best in the West. The majority of Sunset readers are aged between 25 and 54, college-educated, with a median income of $85,000+. They are frequent affluent travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. The ad included a reader response listing. Readers could request information about the events from Sunset’s Reader Service page by circling the assigned number and returning the business reply card by mail or fax or calling in their choices. Sunset emailed the requests, along with names and addresses. We received over 700 requests, and people requesting information received the PlacerGROWN Local Food Guide and PlacerGROWN promotional materials and information about upcoming agricultural events.

Agritourism in Placer County is expanding. These annual, collaborative events and tours have been effective in introducing farmers to agritourism with positive results. They increase local awareness of agriculture as well as draw visitors from outside the county to visit the farms that dot the rural landscape. These events are great opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and vintners because they attract new, first time visitors as well as repeat customers.

The development of the MMGA created a cohesive group for the mandarin a growers to work collaboratively to address mandarin quality issues and packing and labeling protocols in order to insure a superior quality product from the regions as well as engage in collaborative marketing efforts, events, and promotion.

Direct Marketing to Restaurants – During the first year of the project, PlacerGROWN worked with project participants to launch a promotion to introduce their products to local restaurants. The promotion was titled “Placer County Wines and Dines”. Farmers partnered with local restaurants to develop a special menu featuring locally produced fruits, vegetables, meat and wine during the month of October. The event was promoted by the restaurants and through local media. An event committee was formed and committee participants met with local restaurateurs in order to explain the event and ask for their participation.

PlacerGROWN facilitated and organized two meetings between the farmers and the restaurateurs to assess the barriers and opportunities for them to purchasing local produce, meat and wine. The first event was held in September and was a tasting event. The event was held at a local vineyard and farmers, ranchers and wineries provided chef s and winebuyers with a taste of their products. Chefs had the opportunity to taste the superior flavor and freshness of local products and the farmers had the opportunity to learn what local chefs are interested in purchasing and discuss pricing and delivery terms. The chefs and winebuyers that attended received the PlacerGROWN Ag Guide as well as a binder of information sheets on each participating farm, ranch and winery. The information sheets listed the contact information, a biography of the producer and a list of what products they have available and when, a list of products they would be interested in growing and price sheets.

In addition, PlacerGROWN worked with local growers to compile and distribute by email a weekly availability list to restaurants and produce buyers.

Six restaurants participated in the promotion and it was an excellent introduction to local producers. A follow-up meeting was held in January, 2006. The farmers and restaurateurs decided not to conduct the promotion in 2006. However, several of the participating restaurants and others have become members of PlacerGROWN.

A restaurant listing has been added to the Local Food Guide and the website. We have five restaurants that have become PlacerGROWN members and by doing so have demonstrated a commitment to using or serving local produce, meat and/or wine. We receive regular phone calls from restaurants as well as food processors looking for sources of local product. There are several issues that need to be addressed including timing of ordering, sufficient quantity of product, ordering and distribution that we were not able to address during the grant period, but we continue to seek solutions for in order to increase direct-marketing to restaurants.

Wine and AgTourism Brochure
The ten wineries in Placer county decided that they wanted to collaboratively market themselves and create a brochure featuring a history of winemaking in the region, a wine trail map and a listing of overnight accommodations and area restaurants and wine shops that feature local wines. They requested assistance from PlacerGROWN to accomplish this. The wineries in collaboration with PlacerGROWN and the Placer County Winegrape Association developed the brochure and a distribution and marketing plan. Fifty thousand copies of the brochure were printed and distributed locally at agricultural and community events through the Placer County Visitors’ Center as well as the Auburn, Loomis, Roseville and Tahoe Chambers of Commerce and out of the county via Tourism Centers and at the Sunset Idea House in Menlo Park. The wineries placed a joint ad in Sunset Magazine. The brochure was mailed to consumers requesting additional information from the ad. Three hundred brochures requests were received. In addition, all ten wineries mailed the brochure to their mailing lists and distributed them at winetastings and fundraisers.

Work with Institutional Buyers including Hospitals and Schools
Through this project we realized that we needed significant infrastructure to wholesale product to institutional buyers such as hospitals and schools. Many of the farms are very small and don’t have a large diversity of crops. Therefore, it is necessary to have a central distribution center with cold storage and a delivery vehicle in order to aggregate product in order to service these customers that are accustomed to working with produce distributors. In addition, many growers, are direct-marketing a large portion of their crops through the farmers’ market, produce stands and the newly developed CSA, that they are less inclined to wholesale product. However, with the Foothill Farmers’ Market Association, we developed a relationship with one of the largest health maintenance organizations in the state of California, Kaiser Permanente to host a farmers’ market at one of their larger facilities and to offer the CSA boxes to employees at a facility that was not large enough to sustain a farmer’s market. In addition, we collaborated with the community college in the area, Sierra College to offer CSA boxes to the students and faculty.

For the growers that had a sufficient quantity of product and were willing to wholesale we worked with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and the California Growers’ Collaborative, so they could get a higher price for their product than they would have from a traditional produce distributor. The California Growers’ Collaborative sells local fruits and vegetables from family farms to public and private grade schools, colleges, hospitals, and corporate cafeterias. By aggregating product from farms that are too small to work with conventional distributors, the Growers Collaborative removes a significant marketing barrier for independent family farms across the state. Currently, the Growers Collaborative serves growers and institutions in Ventura, Greater Los Angeles, the Central Coast, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento Valley.

Branding, Marketing, Farm Stories and Community Outreach

Workshops and meetings focused on strategies for branding and marketing the family farm as well as telling your farm story and community outreach. These educational opportunities provided farmers with the resources to develop their own brand identity and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. This was supported by PlacerGROWN’s efforts to promote the PlacerGROWN brand and the farmers as a group as well as individually. The PlacerGROWN website and newsletter were both redesigned with a fresh look in order to offer farmers a venue to promote themselves. Each farmer has a listing on the website and a farm story, www.placergrown.org. The PlacerGROWN newsletter, published quarterly with a distribution of 2500 featured farmers and their stories, included a seasonal list of locally available products, recipes, a calendar of agricultural events, a list of farmers that host farm visits and articles highlighting the importance of local agriculture and the economic, environmental and health benefits of a local, seasonal diet.

Research conclusions:

The most significant impact of this project was increasing producer knowledge, awareness, attitudes and skills. In workshop and farm conference evaluations farmers reported that the material presented would be beneficial in improving the economic viability of their operation. From the workshops conducted producers have obtained the information, skills and resources to more effectively direct market their produce and farms. Specifically, the project has increased awareness among small-scale producers about the opportunities and challenges of direct marketing. Local producers are more conscious of viable direct marketing opportunities such as community supported agriculture, marketing to local restaurants and retail outlets, and on-farm events and promotions. Serving on the steering committee and attending workshops have provided them with the opportunity to develop a more positive attitude toward working collectively. Finally, the project has provided growers and ranchers with solid experience in networking, problem-solving and teamwork, abilities that they will capitalize on long after the grant period to pursue collaborative direct marketing endeavors.

The consumer surveys provided us with important information about the preferences of consumers in Placer County. A total of 55 surveys were conducted at community e vents. According to respondents flavor is most important when purchasing produce followed by how it was grown, appearance, price and where it was grown. Who grew it ranked the lowest. When asked why they purchase produce grown in Placer County, 80% responded because they want to support farmers and preserve farmland in Placer County followed by it tastes good, its good for the environment and its more nutritious. Seventy-five percent said they would pay more for local produce and 16% said maybe. If those that answered yes, 41% are willing to pay as much as 20% and 54% would pay 10% more. According to our survey, carrying and featuring local produce is good marketing tool for supermarkets and restaurants because 78% said they would give preference to a supermarket that carried local produce and 80% would give preference to a restaurant that featured local produce on the menu. We would like to collect additional data to support these results, and will include this data when discussing the benefits of purchasing local produce with supermarkets and restaurants.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The manual, Collaborative Community Supported Agriculture: A New Direct Marketing Opportunity was completed and disseminated. In addition, PlacerGROWN made several presentations about the projects to other interested organizations.

All of the workshops and the farm conference were well publicized through direct mail, press releases resulting in local media coverage, the PlacerGROWN web site, email and phone calls.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Our best economic data comes from the collaborative CSA. The CSA generated over $20,000 in revenue for small farmers in Placer County. The majority of this revenue went to a core group of 4 to 6 growers. This additional revenue made a significant positive impact on their farming operation and allowed them to diversify their marketing channels and their production.

Farmer Adoption

More than 100 producers were involved in this project and benefited from the educational opportunity. Twenty-five new farmers were introduced to community supported agriculture. Twenty of them participated in the CSA at least minimally, and 8 of the 20 were very involved with the planning and implementation.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

The marketing and outreach efforts of PlacerGROWN, the Placer County Agricultural Marketing Program and the Foothill Farmers’ Market Association have done an excellent job of creating community awareness of local agriculture and demand for local products. This project has helped farmers and ranchers recognize this demand and provide the resources to develop strategies and collaborative projects to meet the demand and improve the economic viability of their operations. Additional study is needed in the form of case studies or business models that demonstrate profitable farms and ranches in Placer County. The analysis should include an accurate accounting of revenue and expenses in order to demonstrate which crops/products are generating profits and which crops/products are not profitable within an enterprise, and suggest strategies for improving profitability of those crops/products or identify other profitable options. This financial analysis will also demonstrate the need to determine price based on cost. Many of the farmers need to raise prices for their products, and having the financial information to justify the cost increase is beneficial. We need to cultivate the next generation of farmers in Placer County, and that will be particularly challenging unless we have business models that demonstrate how farming can be economically viable and profitable.

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.