Small- to mid-scale produce farmers know that direct marketing--that is to say, making sales directly to consumer at farmers markets, farm stands, and similar channels--cuts out middlemen and helps farmers retain the greatest portion of their sales. Yet direct marketing can be a big demand on farmers' time and has its limits, since not all potential customers shop at these venues. As the local food movement grows in scope, diversifying sales outlets to include new local wholesale channels such as grocery stores, distributors, and institutions may be the next big wave in an effort to broaden the appeal and availability of locally produced food and support our local farming economy. “Diversifying marketing channels and selling wholesale can help farmers spend more time farming, sell more of what that they grow, efficiency scale up, and ultimately support their bottom line,” says UCCE Sonoma County Food Systems Advisor, Julia Van Soelen Kim.
Local farmers tour Sebastopol’s Community Market during a UCCE Tour to Meet Buyers in December
For these reasons, the advisor and colleagues from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and the Farmers Guild organized a series of three events for small- to mid-scale farmers and beginning farmers to explore new local sales opportunities in Sonoma County this winter. The events introduced farmers to produce buyers from around the region who care about sourcing locally and offered strategies to successfully build new sales relationships with wholesale buyers. The first event was a Tour to Meet Buyers (December 4, 2017) in which farmers hopped on a bus to tour wholesale buyers ranging from food distributors to grocery stores across Sonoma County. The second event was a Workshop on Expanding Market Channels (January 18, 2018 Petaluma Community Center) during which farmers heard the inside scoop from diverse buyers with an excellent track record of buying from local farms, and the third event was the very popular annual Farmer-Buyer Mixer (February 6, 2018 at the Sebastopol Grange), where farmers and buyers had the opportunity to “speed date” and meet a variety of potential partners, learn about each other's businesses, and form new business connections. Events were organized by UC Cooperative Extension Sonoma County, UC SAREP, and CAFF/The Farmers Guild and made possible thanks to generous funding from CoBank and the Farm Credit Alliance.
Local farmers hear from a distributor about how to get into the wholesale market during a UCCE Tour to Meet Buyers in December