- Agronomic: corn, peanuts, potatoes, sunflower
- Fruits: melons, berries (other), figs, peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
- Nuts: pecans
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, beans, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips
- Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals, trees
- Animals: bovine
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management
- Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities
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.