Farm Direct Distribution

Project Overview

FW07-303
Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2007: $25,444.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Brigitte Moran
Marin Farmers Market Association

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: cover crops, organic fertilizers
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, agricultural finance, value added
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Soil Management: green manures
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Abstract:

    Since spring 2007, significant progress has been made in the development of this unique farmers’ market partnered local distribution program called Farm to Fork (previously Farm Direct).

    Initial steps were taken to begin educating and training a small pilot group of producers who are members of the Marin Farmers Markets to participate and help design the program.

    Jim Eldon, Fiddler’s Green Farm; Dennis Dierks, Paradise Valley Produce; and Andrew Brait, Full Belly Farms have been integral in designing and developing, advising, and promoting the program. Jim has contributed his long-time expertise in farmers markets and on the needs of local producers, as well as giving input into the administrative paperwork used in the program. Dennis has represented Marin County’s producers' needs and assists with the program’s development and implementation. Andrew has contributed his knowledge of marketing, food safety, packing and promotion to the program’s development. All three farmers have provided their product and have benefitted from the program; their efforts have allowed many other local small/mid-sized farmers to benefit from the program.

    The first few customers of Farm to Fork started during the time period of this grant, and the number of customers has increased steadily since it was initiated. The development of this program has progressed more rapidly than originally planned, in response to positive feedback on the part of customers and participating producers. In 2007, during the initial start-up and development phase of Farm to Fork, delivered one day a week, about $100,000 of locally grown and produced foods were purchased through the program by local institutions. In 2008, the revenue brought in through the program doubled and the program instituted a small mark up to help cover program costs. The income generated from the program for 2008 was about $200,000.

    During this developmental period, the program has stayed small and manageable, growing in small increments. Despite the declining economy, sales have grown steadily and the program maintains a positive and growing contribution to both customers' and farmers' businesses. One challenge has been that for some customers, Farm to Fork is not replacing their bigger distributor. Price conscious and accustomed to getting out-of-seasonal products, some customers’ orders are relatively small. More education, recruitment of knowledgeable and dedicated customers and ongoing encouragement will be helpful to engage customers at a higher level.

    Introduction

    In 2007, Marin Farmers Market Association (MFM) began developing Farm Direct (renamed: Farm to Fork), a local food distribution effort aimed at linking locally grown farm fresh foods with institutional food service customers and food businesses in Marin County. This locally-based pilot for a farm fresh food distribution and education program is being developed as a unique model of local food procurement and delivery systems; aimed at serving local institutions, businesses and organizations. MFM is committed to sharing this model and lessons learned with other interested communities.

    MFM and its partner producers have benefitted from Western SARE’s support to develop and pilot Farm to Fork, which partners with farmers in two local farmers markets. Over the last nearly two years, Farm to Fork’s activities have resulted in farm fresh products being purchased directly from farmers markets by local hospitals, schools and restaurants. The program has simultaneously created a brand new opportunity for small, sustainable farmers in our markets to add boxes of product to their farmers market-bound truck, to be loaded on a single truck delivering direct to local business and institutional customers.

    In 2008, MFM and the Marin Agricultural Institute (MAI) - a close affiliated organization of MFM - determined that MAI was best positioned to develop Farm to Fork and take it to the next level. This decision, that clarified a continued partnership, gradually led to the transition where MAI now plays the lead role in the administration of the program.

    MFM views its role in starting Farm to Fork as helping to spawn a new trend for local food distribution programs to be created. Demand for locally grown sustainable food products has been growing. However, systems have not been in place to meet the increasing institutional and business desire for locally produced foods, straight from the farm.

    The development of an exciting new local food paradigm demands the willing investment of innovative thinkers, dedicated funders, as well as producers and customers committed to get to know each other’s needs and stories. It will take a number of years to develop the new systems that are necessary, to establish them firmly and enlarge the foothold on a marketplace where inertia, or “the way things have been done” has great force behind it. MAI (who will now take the reigns of the program) is enthusiastic about continuing to develop a model program now poised to expand, increase its focus on education and training of producers, share its findings with other communities, and help create this new paradigm, guided by practical experience and effective systems.

    Project objectives:

    The initial goal of the project was to increase revenue for participating sustainable farmers by a total of $700,000 in the first full year. The first full year (consisting of two or three days of delivery per week) is planned for 2009. The last year and a half has been dedicated to developing order management and accounting systems, improving these systems to make them more efficient, purchasing a truck, developing initial marketing materials, growing a customer base and a producer group for the program, and beginning to share our lessons learned with others.

    After nearly two years of on-the-ground experience, the $700,000 target for next year is on the high side. However, the program can certainly expand and increase sales beyond this initial development phase. What is needed to expand and improve the program includes:

    • Additional training for local food producers, both current participants and potential participants in the program

    • Education and recruitment of additional customers

    • Increased marketing assistance to local producers and for customers

    • Additional improvements in efficiency in the current systems that are in place to run the program

    The Marin Farmers Market Association designed Farm to Fork to accomplish five specific goals, as stated in our original proposal:

    Goal 1: Promote stewardship of our natural resources by directly supporting small, local and sustainable family farms.

    This goal is being accomplished by the project by helping support 70 local food producers, many of whom are certified organic, do not use pesticides, and/or who grow diversified crops on a small to medium scale.

    Goal 2: Promote and improve the economic viability for our member producers.

    This goal is being accomplished by the project generating revenue (to date $300,000) that contributes to the economic viability of their business with negligible cost.

    Goal 3: Support a direct connection between customer and farmer, which increases the investment on both sides to support quality products and sustainable practices.

    This goal is being accomplished through assisting customers with accessing locally grown product and by teaching them and their clients about the farms they are sourcing from. These educational programs involve signage at the customer’s sites, access to an informative website, a brochure and presentations about the benefits of buying from local producers.

    Goal 4: Encourage product/crop diversification by increasing direct market opportunities for farmers to provide new products to educated customers.

    This goal is being accomplished by the project through training and by adding more farmers who are participating in the Farm to Fork program. When educating producers, we let them know that a diverse product selection and planting practices are desirable to the customer. Participating farmers are learning that the producers with more diverse crop and sustainable methods are having greater success in the program.

    Goal 5: Improve our understanding of the economic, social and environmental implications of adopting sustainable practices by demonstrating the economic and environmental benefit (revenue and miles saved) of purchasing from local farms.

    This goal is being accomplished by the project through researching and reviewing published reports, by tracking the distance that each of our producers travels to the central drop off for the program, and by developing our own reports on the impact of our work.

    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.