Farmers meet Bay Area produce buyers to bring consumers fresh, local food

Feb 23, 2015

A second market tour for Bay Area farmers is Feb. 24.

It's not easy for immigrant farmers to market their produce. They often lack the contacts or even language skills to forge business relationships with large produce distributors. Meanwhile, consumers are clamoring for fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables and produce buyers are working to meet that demand by purchasing more from small-scale and local growers.

Small-scale farmers, mostly Hmong immigrants, from the Fresno area toured the Bay Area on Feb. 18 to meet wholesale produce buyers and distributors to learn how the operations work and what they need from growers. The tour was organized by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and its Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program (SAREP).

“The Hmong farmers returned to Fresno with buyers who want to purchase their products,” said Thomas Nelson, UC ANR SAREP's sustainable supply chain analyst, who led the tour. “The day gave them a sense of the opportunities, market demand and next steps for growing their businesses.”

The farmers, who grow specialty crops including daikon, lemongrass, gailon broccoli, bok choy, sugarcane and jujubes, visited wholesale distributors Pacific Rim Produce in Oakland and SF & LA Specialty in Union City, Cal Dining at UC Berkeley and William Lue in San Ramon, who owns five Burmese restaurants.

John Wong, president of Pacific Rim Produce, buys from local farmers to offer more than 200 produce items  to supermarkets, restaurants, food processors, food service delivery companies, hotels, and casinos.

Four things are essential to being a successful farmer, “Growing, marketing, commitment and branding,” said Wong, who takes pride in coaching small-scale growers to build successful businesses.

Growing quality produce, packing and storing it under the best conditions to preserve the quality are important, he said, with Michael Yang, UC ANR Cooperative Extension Hmong agricultural assistant in Fresno County, translating the conversation for the growers.

For an unfamiliar crop such as jujubes, the best way to market is by letting school children taste them, Wong told the farmers. “Kids will tell their parents and the parents will go to the market to see if they can find it,” he said. “Word of mouth by kids is the best advertising.”

Wong encouraged the growers to build a brand for their businesses so that consumers will recognize their products in markets. He also cautioned against hurting their reputation by breaking a commitment to sell to a buyer if another buyer offers a higher price.

On Feb. 24, UC ANR SAREP will host Bay Area farmers for a similar tour to meet with produce buyers.

“The February 24 tour will introduce beginning farmers to traditional and innovative values-based channels for selling their products,” said Nelson.” In addition to buyers, the farmers will meet other key actors who are working to build sustainable and local food supply chains, including food safety experts, microfinance lenders, food hubs operators.”

For more information about times and locations for the Bay Area market tour or to sign up, visit

The Small and Ethnic Farmer Market Tour Project is run by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension, the UC ANR Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program and Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis. Sponsors include the California Department of Food and Agriculture, CoBank, Farm Credit West, American AgCredit and Farm Credit Services of Colusa-Glenn.

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach