Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

News Stories

May 28, 2010
CONTACT: Jeannette Warnert, (559) 646-6074, jewarnert@ucdavis.edu

UC helps Southeast Asian farmers expand the market for locally grown strawberries


The University of California has established partnerships with five Sacramento-area school districts and fruit distributors to bring strawberries produced locally by Southeast Asian farmers into school cafeterias and restaurants.

Typically, Sacramento’s small-scale strawberry farmers sell most of their product at farm stands. However, at the peak of the season, purchases can’t keep pace with the plants and some fruit is left to rot in the field.

This year, 10 strawberry farmers are selling an additional 4,600 flats of strawberries beyond their farm stands, earning a combined $58,000. The additional revenue provides much needed income for these small-scale family farms which gross on average $15,000 in a good year, and can lose everything in a bad year.

A team of UC Berkeley and Sacramento County UC Cooperative Extension researchers and scientists, with support from a USDA National Research Initiative grant, identified 95 Sacramento-area strawberry growers with farm stands. They produced an online map to help Sacramento consumers find roadside stands with farm-fresh fruit.

“One of the goals of the project is to expand local market opportunities for these growers,” said project coordinator Jennifer Sowerwine. “This project not only increases income for these limited-resource farmers, but reduces our ‘food miles,’ or the distance food must travel from farm to fork, and brings fresh, local, nutritious strawberries into our children's school lunches, restaurants and low income neighborhoods.”

The local fruit is being offered to students in five regional school districts: Sacramento City Unified, Yuba City Unified, Buckeye Unified and Rescue Unified in El Dorado County and Roseville City Unified.  Produce Express owner Jim Mills is coordinating the largest channel of berries by serving the 27,000-student Sacramento City Unified School District. The non-profit organizations Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture & Education Project and the Alchemist Community Development Corporation are also facilitating the transfer of strawberries from the farm to consumers.

“Through these partnerships, we are piloting strawberry sales to local public school lunch programs, community farm stands and restaurants,” Sowerwine said. “Sacramento region residents are able to enjoy fresh strawberries from farms located less than 10 miles from them.”

Sowerwine said the school food service staff has been pleased to offer the fresh fruit to students, even though preparation is more time consuming than serving frozen fruit.

“The kids loved them,” said Mary Furnas from Sequoia school. “I think as long as they're in season we should have them. It’s a little more work for us two-people kitchens, but it’s worth the entire work, some kids don't get them at home."

About the farmers: Most of the 95 strawberry farm stands in and around the Sacramento region are owned and operated by Mien and Hmong refugees from Laos, a small country in Southeast Asia that neighbors Vietnam.

When the U.S. left Southeast Asia in 1975, hundreds of thousands of Hmong and Mien fled their homeland to avoid persecution. Over 120,000 were eventually resettled in the U.S. The population today has expanded to an estimated 300,000, with nearly 35,000 residing in the Sacramento area alone.

Most of the refugees were farmers in Laos. In an effort to rebuild their lives, many turned to farming in the U.S. Most growers lease small plots of land and grow several varieties of strawberries including Chandler, Camarosa, Albion and Seascape.

About the USDA NRI project: In addition to increasing market opportunities, the grant aims to expand culturally appropriate training in crop and pest management, and food safety through on-farm training and cooperative, on-farm research into possible new strawberry varieties and ecologically based pest management. An educational DVD in Hmong, Mien and Lao languages is in development to serve as an enduring outreach to the evolving population of Southeast Asian growers. The project also seeks new land opportunities for these limited-resource growers.

Consumers can play a role in supporting local, family farms in Sacramento by asking schools and favorite restaurants to buy local produce. They can also sample some of the strawberry growers’ fruit from mid-April through June at neighborhood farm stands. To find the farm nearest you, see the searchable Google map of the strawberry farms in Sacramento.

Media contacts:

Jennifer Sowerwine, Project Coordinator, UC Berkeley, jsowerwi@berkeley.edu, (510) 207-2692 or (510) 528-8843

Chuck Ingels, UC Cooperative Extension, caingels@ucdavis.edu

Jim Mills, Produce Express, (916) 825-9004, jimmills@produceexpress.net

Davida H. M. Douglas, Alchemist Community Development Corporation, (916) 204-8260, www.alchemistcdc.org, www.urbanfarmstand.org

Carolyn Reuman, Food Access Program, Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture & Education Project office, (916) 363-9685

Chiem-Seng Yaangh, President, United Iu-Mien Community, Inc., (916) 383-3083, contact@unitediumien.org


Webmaster Email: jewarnert@ucanr.edu