- Author: Lucy Diekmann
Silicon Valley's culture of innovation, diverse culinary traditions, fertile soils, and Mediterranean climate offer unique food system opportunities. In addition to large tech companies, these two counties are home to roughly 1300 farms with agricultural production valued at more than $450 million. Yet high land values make it difficult for farmers to find and keep land. The high cost of living also contributes to many families' struggle to put healthy food on the table. According to Second Harvest Food Bank, one in three children in Silicon Valley are food insecure. Many of those who are hungry are employed, but don't make enough to cover basic expenses in what has become the country's richest region as well as its most expensive.
Despite these challenges, this is an exciting time to work on food and agriculture in Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County is in the process of implementing the Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan to preserve agricultural lands and support a vibrant agricultural economy. The nonprofit organization SPUR is piloting a program to make California-grown produce more affordable for low-income families at grocery stores in San Jose and Gilroy. Civically engaged residents successfully advocated for Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones in the City of San Jose, creating new opportunities to put vacant land to productive use. The region's urban farms are involved in growing food for school cafeterias, developing a food entrepreneurship program, and educating students and the general public about food and agriculture, among many other activities.
Originally from Maine, I relocated to the Bay Area 15 years ago to pursue a PhD at UC Berkeley. For the past eight years, I've been working and raising my family in the South Bay. If you'd like to learn more about my work or Silicon Valley's food system, please be in touch. You can find me here: http://cesantaclara.ucanr.edu/Programs/contact/?facultyid=40005.
- Author: Rachel A. Surls
It's National Farmers Market Week! And here in California, we're celebrating and enjoying our 764 farmers markets-more than any other state. Since many of these markets are in cities, they are an option that urban farmers often consider when deciding how best to market their products. Knowing how to get started, though, can be a challenge.
First, farmers should do some research, including visiting local markets to see the displays and gather ideas about what they might sell. It's important to contact market managers to find out if they have space available, what it costs, and talk about what products they are looking for. It's not always easy to get a spot at a farmers market, because the manager is trying to ensure the right mix of farms and products.
The manager also needs farmers who have a consistent harvest and enough volume to sell every week, and this can be challenging for urban farmers, since they are often beginning farmers and typically have very limited growing space. Even so, some market managers are happy to give urban farmers a try, and some even actively recruit them. For example, the staff of the Altadena Farmers Market in Los Angeles County has sought out and encouraged local backyard farmers to participate in their market. For more ideas on how to get started selling at farmers markets, check out the New Farmer's Guide: Cultivating Success at Farmers Markets.
Another mandatory step is for the farmer to contact their County Agricultural Commissioner's Office. In order to sell at a California Certified Farmers Market, growers must have a Certified Producer's Certificate (CPC). This certification process is part of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Certified Farmers Market Program. An inspector will make an appointment to visit the growing area to find out what and how much the farmer is growing, and how much they project they will have available for sale. There is a small annual fee for certification. After the inspection, and paying the fee, the farmer receives a certificate to display when selling at a market. Growers can only sell what has been grown on the farm, and specifically, what is on the certificate. New crops can be added by amending the certificate. Some counties use an on-line application for the Certified Producer's Certificate.
The Certified Producer's Certificate has one main purpose. It simply certifies that a farmer is in fact growing what he or she is selling at the farmers market. At a California Certified Farmers Market, the consumer is assured that everything has been grown on the farm and has been brought to the market by the farmer, their immediate family members, or their employees. The inspection and certification process helps to ensure the integrity of this system. The CPC will not be the only requirement to sell at a farmers market. There may be other local requirements that farmers will learn about through working with the Agricultural Commissioner's staff and the farmers market manager.
Selling at farmers markets can be great for some urban farmers, but doesn't work for every situation. Drawbacks include the commitment of time each week to prepare for, travel to, and staff the booth, and challenges competing with the volume, prices and diversity of products offered by larger growers. Urban farmers have to work hard to build their customer base and find products that will appeal to the market's customers.
Farmers markets are one form of direct marketing, or selling straight from the farmer to the consumer. See our UC ANR Urban Agriculture Marketing page to learn more about marketing strategies.