Step outside of the box
By Leah Bigham
Promoting your product can be a struggle as you attempt to make a difference in the agriculture industry. Farmers have taken the initiative to look for new ways to market their products in such a way that they are set apart from all the rest. A little creativity and will power can go a long way in implementing new ideas.
Rather than revert back to their childhood, many residents of California’s Central Valley, think of farm fresh produce at the mention of Farmer and the Dale. As a marketing student in his senior year of Farmer and the Dale fresh fruit on display at the Clovis, CA Farmer's Market college, owner Nick Salazar adjusted the typical Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model to his liking, for what is going on a two-year success. In a traditional CSA, farmers work directly with consumers, eliminating the middle man. After 20 years of participating in farmer’s markets,
Salazar decided to implement his collegiate idea at Farmer and the Dale, and hit the road with his produce.
This farmer’s market on wheels, gives customers access to “field run” produce, where they custom-order fresh produce to be hand-delivered. The customer determines what is contained in their box delivery, setting this concept apart from other CSA models. In one week the customer’s order is processed and delights them with farm fresh fruit at their doorstep.
The majority of the produce sold by Farmer and the Dale is organically farmed in Reedley and Dinuba. The rest of the products are purchased from other small family farms who practice sustainable agriculture. “We will never sell anything that comes from another country” or that “we would not give to our own friends and families,” they promise in their “down home values” on their website.
Art Lange doesn’t just explain to consumers what sets his fruit apart from all the rest—he demonstrates it. With over 200 varieties of trees and vines on three separate farms in Reedley, Calif. Lange gives away “ripe and ready to eat” fruit displayed at his roadside stand. This gives the consumer an opportunity to taste what Honeycrisp fruit is all about, Lange said, noting its sweet flavor. “Unless people taste our fruit, they don’t realize how it compares to other fruit.”
“Our secret is, we pick and pack ripe fruit before it hits the ground in the field, cool it down immediately and try to get the fruit into the customers’ hands as fast as possible,” Lange revealed. He is adamant about informing the consumer that they can get good-tasting fruit. “Fruits and vegetables are our health,” he said, commenting on the probability of people eating ice cream sundaes because they think they taste better. “I’ve had people almost faint when they’ve tasted my fruit because they’ve never tasted anything like it.” But like an ice cream cone, “you have to stop everything and eat it,” because the disadvantage of great tasting fruit is that it goes bad quickly.
Lange finds it rewarding to provide “dead-ripe” fruit while supermarkets “handle beautiful fruit, [that] doesn’t have the flavor.” All Honeycrisp fruit is picked about ten days after commercial fruit. It’s “cheaper than the supermarket and an awful lot better tasting,” he said.
Lange’s neighbor, also a farmer, hauls Honeycrisp fruits to Santa Monica and Beverly Hills each week. They are also sent by mail order all over the U.S., mostly to the Eastern region. But Lange claims that “you can learn more coming to my fruit stand than you can going to college.”
Become Actively Involved
Becoming a member of a club, society, committee or event relevant to a specific fruit variety, gives clout to a grower. Consumers are reassured by your experience and involvement in your field of production. Nearly every fruit produced in California is represented by an organization that will keep you in the know and expand your opportunities. Your participation will unveil a broad spectrum of people, places and things that will help you celebrate the fruit that you grow. Following are a couple of examples:
Organic Farmer’s Markets
A local farmer’s market that is designated for organic products only, incorporates modern trends into an age-old tradition. It has the natural appeal of local support, community involvement and tourist attraction. Members of the community are drawn to downtown streets where they can mingle with and support others in their community while they experience food, fun and entertainment for the whole family.
But most of all consumers appreciate the ability to interact with farmers, who are willing to share information about their method of farming. Farmer’s Markets are the perfect opportunity to share your expertise alongside your methods of production to validate their concerns and assure consumers that you grow wholesome products.
2011 Tomato Festival
The Los Banos Chamber of Commerce will reintroduce the Tomato Festival in November, 2011. Organic tomato producers’ are given the chance to be involved with this event, that will have a major focus on food festivities.
Attractions will include the Tomato Patch for kids, to enjoy games, crafts and entertainment; the Tomato Products Wellness Council, to display the health benefits of tomatoes; and Tomato Alley, where food demonstrations will be given. Organic tomato farmers are invited to educate spectators on the differences between a conventional crop and their own.
Celebrity chefs, including Ryan Scott, finalist on Top Chef and former resident of Los Banos; Leo Pedrozzo, finalist on Hell’s Kitchen; and Nancy Vajretti, former Los Banos restauranteur and owner of Love and Garlic in Fresno, who has her own local TV show, are scheduled to participate in the festival.
Tomatoes are extremely important to the Los Banos area, home of the world’s largest tomato processing plant, Morning Star. “We want people to understand how important they are to our community and it’s something we’re proud of,” said Rhonda Lowe, president of the Los Banos Chamber of Commerce.
“Ag is so big in our area,” Lowe said, expressing concern that “a lot of people just don’t understand the connection” we have to agriculture and her dedication change that.
One way to connect the dots is through agritourism. Opening your home and/or your land to others renders an appreciation at both the delivering and receiving ends. It’s called the gift of hospitality. It’s sharing a part of you with others, who may otherwise never get to experience those things, if not for you.
U.S. agritourism is growing in popularity, allowing the average consumer a chance to understand the land, animals and food on which they survive. Jean Okuye, president of the Valley Land Alliance, a non-profit organization, and her affiliates have grasped the importance of extending their hospitality from Merced and Mariposa counties. With a mission to “educate to save farmland and secure a healthy food supply,” they seek to explore agriculture, art and nature tourism in California. After five years of meeting to discuss their goals, Country Ventures has emerged from Valley Land Alliance.
Country Ventures is in the midst of working on a general plan of zoning, to access rights for farms stays, a common European tradition. “We think that it’s a win-win situation” for the farmer and the county, Okuye said. Mariposa County is approaching their final stages of planning, after working at it for two years. If the plan is accepted, farmers will be able to obtain a permit to charge visitors who want to experience life on their farm.
“We believe when people learn more about where their food comes from, they will take responsibility to protect the land, water, and people who make our Central Valley so productive,” Okuye said. “We need to plan for ag.”
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