Sacramento Region Local Market Assessment
From RUCS Wiki
Over the last several years, there has been a growing interesting among consumers about the source of their food. What started as demand for “organic” food has evolved to demand for “locally- and sustainably-produced” food. Some people are concerned with food safety, others about taste and freshness, some with environmental benefits, while others view local food production as a vestige of our heritage worth preserving and enhancing. For producers, their customers’ concerns and interests are their own concerns and interests, provided that meeting these objectives correlates with meeting their financial bottom line. While enterprises and a body of literature have developed around the local food niche, there is a shortage of data to understand the impact of this movement on food systems in the SACOG region. Nonetheless, there are plenty of local market examples in each county in the region – some of which were seen on agriculture tours for the SACOG Board of Directors throughout 2008 – and enough interest with producers, retailers, and distributors in addition to consumers, that an entire working group for the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy project has been formed to better understand the opportunities for local markets and agritourism. These opportunities are part of the larger topic of new economic opportunities in agriculture and present a possible new revenue stream for farmers and ranchers.
To understand the challenges to fostering a market for local food, we need to first understand how today’s food system works. Generally, we have a food system that has evolved to support large-scale agriculture and large retailers. Food is trucked into and out of the region daily since the bulk of the production in the region meets very little of our demand. And even where we do grow enough of one crop or another, the conventional food system is not well suited to channel sufficient amounts of that crop directly to meet the local consumer demand. This disconnect means that “food flows” and “food miles of travel” are more extensive than they might be if local demand was better served with local production. It also means there is opportunity to more directly connect our local growers with local consumers and provide possible new markets for these growers.
Notwithstanding the current food system, local food systems are seen throughout the region in the increasing popularity of farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture boxes, agritourism, and nascent demand at restaurants, schools, and other institutions. The extent to which these venues and others may cultivate markets for local food is the focus of this report and the innovations and implementation work ahead. The RUCS team, with the help of the Local Market and Agritourism working group is delving into these questions to better understand the challenges and opportunities of a local food system. This work will help the region assess how changes in our food system may affect transportation needs and impacts, land use policies and land supply, regulations, labor, water, and other factors that affect the success of a local food system.
What we produce and what we consume
Food is produced in abundance in the SACOG region. Overall, the region produces over 3.4 million tons of food annually. Based on USDA data, we can estimate that the SACOG region consumes 2.2 million tons of food annually. Breaking this down by county, three of the six counties in the SACOG region consume more than they produce by weight: Sacramento County (~twice as much), El Dorado (~41 times as much), and Placer County (~six times as much). Yolo, Sutter, and Yuba Counties each produce around eight times more food than their residents consume by weight.
However, when we consider product-specific production, there are notable imbalances. While regional production of vegetables equals 1,812,834 tons annually, 93% of that number is in tomato production alone, much of which leaves the region for processing. Of the 760,320 tons of grain produced in the region, 90% of that is in rice production. However, the vast majority of that rice is exported to Asia and the Middle East, sold domestically as table rice, or used in industrial processes or rice products (i.e. Rice Krispies). The region actually consumes less than 2% of the rice produced here. Finally, in the category of meat and eggs, the region consumes a whopping 1,262% compared to what it produces, meaning this food sector is served almost exclusively by products transported into the region via truck or train. This imbalance between the types of food the region consumes and the foods we produce might present a new local market opportunity for farmers and ranchers, as long as barriers within the local foods distribution system could be adequately addressed.
The food distribution system in the region is very efficient for moving food in and out of the region, but not necessarily for moving food from producer to consumer within the region. The system is geared towards larger scale commercial operations and larger scale movement of food. For smaller or mid-size producers, the distribution system may not be quite as user friendly, particularly for those producers focused on local distribution. Additionally, increased consolidation of grocers and wholesalers has resulted in a reduced number of the outlets that focus on selling of locally-produced foods. An increase in sourcing food locally will need distribution systems geared toward the local producer as discussed below. The implications of local food distribution system on the transportation system will need further study, however, the general construct draws from an analogy to the Blueprint where a prime objective of bring jobs and housing closer together is to reduce vehicle miles of travel. For food systems, the closer the producer is to the consumer, the fewer “food miles” of travel.
While the limited scope of local food comes from several causes, one primary cause repeatedly arose during this research: lack of demand. Education gaps about the benefits and availability of local foods hinders expansion of the system. Also, local often means organic, which increases the cost throughout the system, particularly at the consumer end. Lack of consumer demand has also affected data gathering within the distribution system. Even for distributors who have expressed a desire to track the origin and provenance (defined as…..) of the food they supply, the system does not easily enable this type of accounting. A lack of demand means there’s no pressure at any given point to change tracking in any part of the system.
But there are promising signs on the horizon. Increases in customer volume at area farmer’s markets along with increased participation in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), suggest a rising interest in purchasing locally-produced food. A robust agritourism sector and successful branding campaigns speak to the desire of urban dwellers to increasingly reconnect with the region’s agricultural heritage. And passage of local ordinances and state regulations like AB 2168 that support direct marketing of agricultural products are early indications of legislative movement towards supporting a more sustainable food system.
Challenges and Opportunities
There are specific challenges that need to be overcome in order to expand the local food system, and there are opportunities we could seize upon that could change the current reality.
Education gaps and education opportunities for consumers. While gaps in consumer education may be a primary cause of the lack of scope of local foods, these gaps present an opportunity for the region. This includes increasing educational opportunities for consumers, chefs, and grocery store produce buyers to learn where to buy local, health benefits of buying local, what’s in season, and how to use seasonal produce. Additionally, the region can build on the success of existing farm visit programs for school groups and increase the number of children participating on hands-on farm experiences.
Helping farmers find the right niche. Farmers often cited trouble with finding the right fit for themselves within the distribution system and developing the necessary skill set to establish a direct marketing enterprise. Educating farmers about opportunities, and providing systematic guidance on how and where to step into the distribution system could boost the farming community’s investment in the local food system. Likewise, certain niches within the region remain unfilled and there needs to be more awareness of the market opportunity. Several larger institutions, like school districts, hospital systems and casinos, have complained that there are not locally-serving farms that are big enough to provide a reliable supply of foods to fit their needs.
Creating new distribution and processing infrastructure. Some of the challenges with the current distribution system could be solved by creating new locally-focused distribution infrastructure, like shared processing facilities and distribution centers. This would help network local farms to meet the demands of larger markets. It would also provide a clear avenue for farmers wanting to sell their products to the regional market.
The implications of our research suggest that there is currently not an efficient means of getting food from our rural areas to our urban areas. Most small to mid-size farms in the region aren’t coordinated in delivering their produce to the urban areas. Individual deliveries increase fuel costs and time spent away from the farm. This problem is in part a distribution problem—the lack of a centralized distribution point in the urban areas—but is also due to the difficulties of getting larger trucks onto rural roads. Agritourism venues face their own difficulties around transportation with increased traffic on rural roads, particularly during peak agritourism season in the fall.
Further regulatory changes. Farmers face hurdles in following local regulatory requirements from health department regulations in providing on-farm experiences and activities, to navigating licensing and permitting requirements that are often geared towards large-scale production. Recent successes at the local and state level that support local farmers can be built on to ease regulatory barriers.
Additional opportunities raised during this research include: creating economic incentives for farmers to sell local; “retooling” the cooperative extension farm advisor program to make it better serve locally-focused agriculture; creating online networking opportunities for producers, distributors, and processors; and expanding local agricultural branding efforts.
Land use issues. Land use issues are central to the entire RUCS project. Interviewees and workshop participants in the Local Markets piece talked about the problems of increased subdivision of farm and ranch lands; the challenge of keeping land in agriculture as older generations retire and younger generations can’t afford to purchase land; the struggles that immigrants and refugees face when leasing land to farm due to their lack of resources for purchasing land; and the difficulties of finding funding for conservation and agriculture easements.
Another land use issue is land supply. As noted earlier, the region consumes 2.2 million tons of food a year, while it produces 3.4 million tons. Barring the aforementioned disconnect between production and demand and food flows, it appears that the potential volume produced in a local food system could meet demand for many food items in the region. However, that is based on an analysis of today’s demand; with a roughly doubling of the population by 2050, the land supply needed for production to meet that demand needs to be better understood. Modeling capacity that SACOG is developing may be able to start answering that question.
Labor issues. Farmers in the SACOG region face the challenge of finding an adequate supply of skilled labor, as well as learning how to manage the diverse staffing demands that are unique to an agritourism operation. An adequate supply of labor is particularly difficult during harvest seasons due to the competing needs not only of each county, but each orchard at times. Smaller orchards may have difficulty retaining labor when larger orchards can guarantee more work, likewise for vineyards in the region.
On the map, the greater Sacramento Region resembles two worlds. The state capital lies in the belly of a vast swath of urban and suburban development, extending out from the banks of Sacramento River and spreading eastward into the Sierra foothills. In contrast, farms, orchards, and ranches cover much of the western half of the six-county region.
The two are not as irreconcilable as they might seem. Farmers and ranchers of Sutter, Yolo, Yuba, and to the lesser degree El Dorado, Placer, and Sacramento counties raise crops and livestock that provide sustenance and bring gustatory pleasure to tables as near as Roseville on the I-80 corridor and as far as Syria, in the Middle East.
Food is the fundamental linkage between the countryside and the city. The bountiful, diverse agriculture and the growing population of the SACOG region optimize the potential for this rural-urban linkage through food. Farm-fresh produce, meat, and grain can nourish regional residents and bolster healthful diets, reducing demands on the health care system in the long-term. Marketing of regional food to stores, restaurants, schools, and other outlets in the six counties can also help increase income for local farmers and ranches. In addition, increasing production and consumption from within the close-by food shed can put the region on the path toward greater sustainability, reducing fossil fuel consumption, traffic congestion, and air pollution and promoting linked urban-rural public health.
In the following chapters of the Local Market Assessment, we use three lenses to explore the potential to strengthen the connections between rural, urban, and suburban residents through food: the consumption of food, food distribution, and farmer-to-consumer marketing of food.
The Sacramento Council of Governments (SACOG) is in the process of implementing its awarding-winning Sacramento Region Blueprint and the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP), which will guide how the region grows and makes transportation investments. Built on principles of smart growth, the Blueprint includes a wide range of housing products, reinvestment in already developed areas, protection of natural resource areas, and more transportation choices. The MTP is under-pinned by the Blueprint and calls for transportation investments that support smart growth strategies.
To address impacts to agricultural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the environmental Impact Report for the MTP includes a mitigation measure to develop a Rural-Urban Connections Strategy (RUCS). The RUCS aims to develop tools and strategies that foster economic and environmental sustainability in rural areas and that support the sustainability and resilience of the Sacramento Region overall. The RUCS has five topic areas:
- Land Use and Conservation: Policies and Plans That Shape Rural Areas
- The Infrastructure of Agriculture: Challenges to the Production Process
- Economic Opportunities: New Ways to Grow Revenue
- Forest Management: Firing up Economic and Environmental Value
- Regulations: Navigating Federal and State Environmental Guidelines
The Sacramento Region Local Market Assessment represents the first phase of research for the Economic Opportunities: New Ways to Grow Revenue topic area. The purpose of the Local Market Assessment is to document the potential of agriculture in the Sacramento region to increase its own sustainability and the sustainability of the region, by directly supplying more of the region’s nutritional needs and other public benefits.
Agriculture and food are a critical focus for the Rural-Urban Connection Strategy. Agriculture is the starting point because it is the region’s major non-urban land use, is currently vulnerable to a range of economic pressures (local to global), and yet has the enormous impact across multiple sectors. Multifunctional and multi-faceted, agriculture involves land use, transportation, energy, air and water quality, bio-diversity, cultural diversity, public health, and of course food production. When given a local-place-based and ecological-systems-based focus, agriculture has the potential to meet or complement key environmental, social, and economic goals for sustaining metropolitan regions.
Food is produced in abundance in the SACOG region. However, because the geography of food production and distribution has become global, the Sacramento Region, like most metropolitan areas, to date has paid insufficient attention to the current conditions of – let alone a preferred scenario for - its own foodshed. Just as the Blueprint looked at the urban form and basic needs for shelter and transportation, now the Local Market Assessment now brings to the foreground, another fundamental element of the region’s well-being: food. In investigating food consumption, production, distribution, and marketing and the marketing of agriculture itself through agtourism, the Assessment presents numerous strands of economic, geographic, and demographic data. Most importantly, the Assessment underscores the need for a systems-based understanding of regional food and agriculture as an integral element for understanding and fostering the sustainability of the region.
The first draft of the Local Market Assessment represents the combined efforts of Agriculture in Metropolitan Regions (AMR), Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), and Valley Vision. This report was compiled through interviews with regional stakeholders and data analysis of the region’s six-county food system. It includes an assessment of the current conditions in the food consumption, distribution, marketing and agritourism segments of the region’s extensive food system. The appendices include data from all the report segments. There will be some additions to this first draft as some scheduled interviews remain, and some data is forthcoming, such as a typology of diversified farms in the region.
This report also includes an initial overview of the region’s challenges and opportunities for expanding the local food market, and provides the basis for the working group meeting held on December 2, 2008.
The attached report represents the first phase of our research, with continued work underway on additional aspects of the region’s agriculture, including: diverse farming typologies, multi-functional agriculture, agricultural legacy lands, and ecosystem services.
The research for this assessment consists of two parts: quantitative and qualitative data gathering. For the quantitative research, Agriculture in Metropolitan Regions (AMR) identified a wide range of existing data sources and used these sources to compile sets of relevant information related to food consumption, distribution, marketing, and agritourism. These data sets were then analyzed and, in some cases, compiled in charts and tables that are presented in this report. Data sources run the gamut from private to public; micro-local to national. A sampling includes: U.S. Agriculture Census, U.S. Economic Census, USDA’s Agriculture and Economic Research Services, county crop reports, the California Department of Finance; consulting firm surveys; academic studies with U.C. Davis being a particularly rich source; state, regional, and county tourism and travel bureaus; dietary health and food access surveys; and the like. AMR interviewed major produce distributors, following a detailed questionnaire, and staff members also talked to industry insiders on aspects of agricultural production, processing, and distribution.
Qualitative research, spearheaded by Valley Vision in conjunction with SACOG and AMR, consisted of interviews with more than two dozen stakeholders involved in the local food system from September to November, 2008. These interviews included farmers, distributors, grocers, agritourism practitioners, restaurant owners, wholesalers, and individuals involved in educating others about the importance of local foods. Loosely guided by a list of general questions about food distribution, consumption, and agritourism, these conversations aimed to increase understanding of current challenges to supply of local food in the region’s market as well as opportunities for expanding the supply in the future. Researchers then reviewed the detailed notes recorded at each interview to discern common themes. These themes, as well as other observations, are shared in the final part of this report (“Local Perspectives: Opportunities and Challenges to Expand the Local Food System”).
In this section, we look at how much food is consumed in six counties. We also raise questions about the quality and provenance of that food and about the relationships between what people eat, who they are, and where they live.
Food Consumption in the Greater Sacramento Region
The best estimate for the amount of food consumed in the region each year, grown here or elsewhere, is 2.2 million tons. This estimate is based on the Loss-Adjusted Food Supply Data, a national database administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Food Consumption and Agricultural Production by County
Three of the six counties in the region consume far more than they produce: Sacramento County (~twice as much), El Dorado (~41 times as much), and Placer County (~six times as much). Yolo, Sutter, and Yuba Counties each produce around eight times more food than their residents consume.
Regional Consumption and Production by Food Group and Commodity
Agricultural production in the six counties is highly varied. Based on food group data, farmers produce more than enough fruits, vegetables, and some grains to meet maximum estimated consumption needs. However, in the categories of milk, oils, sugars, and meat the region falls short. Additionally, a more detailed comparison of annual production to consumption of the top 25 commodities produced in the region reveals these disparities:
- Consumption significantly exceeds production for milk (121 percent), wheat (238 percent), beef (381 percent), poultry (642 percent), beans (205 percent), apples (1,059 percent), and watermelons (696 percent).
- Production significantly exceeds consumption for rice, tomatoes, walnuts, peaches, pears, plums, wine grapes, almonds, prunes, and kiwi fruit (from one to 18 percent)
- Food group consumption and production analysis is based on total weight and masks other factors. For example, in the vegetables food group, the region produces more of only one vegetable, processing tomatoes, than it consumes. Also, very little of the food produced in the region is consumed in the region; it flows out to processors and markets outside the region.
Beyond Commodities and Per Capita Consumption Data
Official food commodity categories have their limitations. National “per capita” food consumption estimates flatten differences between communities and residents of the SACOG region, and commodity categories conceal the diversity of the agricultural cornucopia found in the SACOG region. Cultural identities can also influence dietary habits; how to quantify them in food consumption statistics could be revealing but would be a challenge.
Healthy and Local
In keeping with national trends, SACOG residents aren’t hewing to a healthful diet. In all six counties, more than 57 percent of the population is obese or overweight, according to data gathered by the California Health Interview Survey. Diabetes is also on the rise.
There is a close correlation between income level, a healthy diet, and a sufficient diet. The percentage of regional residents receiving food assistance is increasing throughout the region. Factors affecting diet and health in lower-income communities include limited access to fresh, healthy food and ready access to fast food outlets and convenience stores.
There is no information about food consumption in the SACOG region that is specific to this six-county area. The best estimate about food consumption in the region is based on national data. Information about the provenance of the food consumed in the region – where and how it was produced - is virtually non-existent. The best estimates are based on a comparison of consumption information, from national data, with production information from County Crop Reports. However, even this comparison shows net differences between consumption and production, not how much of a specific commodity produced in the region was consumed in the region. Beyond consumption data, information about what regional residents are eating can also be extrapolated from public health trends and can be roughly correlated with demographic data. Clearly, there are many gaps in food consumption information that could be addressed in future research.
Food Consumption in the Greater Sacramento Region
Despite much talk about the benefits of locally grown food, it is nearly impossible to get a full picture of how much of the food grown in the six counties is consumed within the six counties. It is also very difficult to determine the origins of the food eaten in the region.
But we can estimate how much food overall, whatever its origin or pathway, is consumed each year in the region: 2.2 million tons. This estimate is based on the Loss-Adjusted Food Supply Data, a national database administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This food supply data estimates the amount of food that is available, and thus consumed, on a national per capita basis after accounting for loss and waste. Our estimate is based on the weight of food at the farm gate, or primary weight, of 1,924 pounds of food per person per year. The per capita consumer weight estimate of 1,475 pounds per year refers to the food supply that makes it to the table.
To arrive at a ballpark estimate of how much food SACOG region residents eat, we also looked to another national database, the Food Commodity Intake Database (FCID), which is based on dietary surveys . The survey data suggest that each person in the western United States consumes only 806 pounds of food per year. Unlike food supply estimates that approximate how much food is lost from farm gate to fork, dietary intake estimates are based on what people said they eat in a nationwide survey. Such survey results are well known to be far from exact: people tend to say they eat less than they do, especially of “bad or unhealthy” food. A comparison of the various food supply and intake estimates is presented in Table 1.1.
To our knowledge, comprehensive, reliable, and systematically gathered dietary survey data specific to the SACOG, six-county region do not exist. We also did not find comprehensive data sets for food consumption by race, ethnicity, or income within the region. However the FCID data does point to some trends.
- People with the highest incomes report eating the smallest amounts of fat
- Fruit consumption generally increases as income increases
- People earning $90,000+ report eating 62% more fruit than reported by those with incomes less than $10,000 and 40% more fruit than those with incomes between $20,000 and $29,999.
- Added sugar consumption is fairly flat across incomes
- Lower-income people consume fewer vegetables (not including potatoes) than those with high incomes
Snapshots by race/ethnicity (bearing in mind that FCID data has no category for Latino):
- Whites and those categorized as "other" report eating more dairy than African-Americans, APIs and American Indians
- Asian/Pacific Islanders (APIs) report eating less fat per year (31 lbs) than all other groups, who are all fairly similar to one another (around 40 lbs/year)
- APIs reported the lowest fruit consumption, followed by African-Americans
- Whites reported the lowest meat consumption
- Whites reported the highest sugar consumption
- APIs reported the lowest sugar consumption (35 lbs) than all other groups, who varied from 55 to 60 pounds.
- African-Americans reported the lowest vegetable consumption (103 lbs), while APIs were highest (120 lbs). Whites reported eating 118 lbs/year, American Indians 134.
- If you remove potatoes (many of which turn into French fries), the differences are greater: African-Americans reported 84 pounds while APIs reported 107 pounds. Whites reported 98 pounds, American Indians 100 pounds.
Possible avenues for further investigation include a review of public health and food science studies conducted in the region and compilation of dietary health data from local health departments, such as the Sacramento County Communities of Excellence survey mentioned later in this report.
In the greater Sacramento region, the city of Sacramento – not surprisingly – accounts for about one-fifth of the region’s total estimated food consumption. Sacramento residents eat an estimated 457,665 tons of food per year. By county, the largest consumers, in descending order, are Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, El Dorado, Sutter, and Yuba counties. To see consumption estimates for SACOG region cities and towns, see Table A.1. in Appendix A.
Food Consumption and Agricultural Production by County
The entire SACOG region produces about 3.4 million tons of food a year. The estimated 2.2 million tons of food consumed by the region means the region eats about 65 percent of the amount of food it produces, in terms of net tonnage.
At the county level, it’s a different story. Figure 1.1 illustrates the comparison of annual estimated food consumption and production by county. Three counties consume far more than they produce: Sacramento County, for example, consumes well more than twice as much as it produces. El Dorado County consumes nearly 41 times as much as its farms and ranches produce. Residents in Placer County eat more than six times as much as they produce. In contrast to their more urban and suburban neighbors, Yolo, Sutter, and Yuba Counties produce far more food than their residents might be expected to consume: Yolo County at about 12 percent, and Sutter and Yuba consume a mere fraction of the amount of food they produce.
Regional Consumption and Production by Food Group and Commodity
Agricultural production in the six counties is highly varied, ranging from specialty products like goats and kiwifruit to staples like rice and milk. Walnuts, almonds, prunes, and processing tomatoes also have a high profile. In Table 1.2, we compared estimated food consumption and production for the entire region by food group. When viewed through this lens, farmers produce more than enough fruits, vegetables, and grains to meet maximum estimated consumption needs. In the vital food group categories of milk, oils, sugars, and, especially meat, the region falls short. These disparities have implications for regional food distribution and are discussed in that section.
A look at SACOG region production and consumption of key staple food commodities reveals other gaps. Much of the food produced in the region flows out of the region; it is not directly sold to consumers in the region. As seen in Table 1.3 below, people who live in the region might be expected to eat twice as much wheat as is grown and more than 600 times as much poultry as is raised in the six counties. Pork is not shown in Table 1.3 since it is not one of the top 25 commodities produced in the region; however, the six counties consume more than 300 times the amount of pork as is produced in the region. Oddly, the USDA food supply data also suggests that residents could be expected to consume ten times the amount of apples grown in the region. Despite the renowned high-quality apples and established agritourism industry of Apple Hill, the region in fact produces far fewer apples than are consumed. For more information on regional production and consumption estimates by commodity, see Table A.2 in Appendix A.
According to the national food consumption estimates and county crop report data, rice is the only staple food for which production in the SACOG region far exceeds expected consumption demands. The agricultural commodity data, however, does show milk production as nearly on par with consumption demands. (The gap is more pronounced in the food group data above because it encompasses a broader range of milk-related foods). The region produces all other non-staple foods in amounts which far exceed the estimated demand from consumers in the region.
Beyond Commodities & Per Capita Consumption: What the Data Don’t Tell Us
As already noted, the food consumption estimates above are based on national per capita estimates of dietary intake and food supply. Of course, not every person in the U.S. eats the same poundage of each commodity. What people eat depends in large part on who they are and where they live. This is no less true in the SACOG region. But locating data for how food consumption relates to factors like income, race, ethnicity, or other social grouping is very challenging.
Official food commodity categories also have their limitations. Just as a national “per capita” food consumption estimate flattens differences between regions, communities, and individuals, so do commodity categories conceal the diversity of the agricultural cornucopia. The commodity category, “Citrus,” encompasses everything from a Satsuma mandarin to a Meyer lemon to a ruby-red grapefruit. Nor do many less “mainstream” vegetables find their way into definable categories. Radicchio, parsley, and asparagus merit their own commodity categories, but not the dozens of Chinese and Southeast Asian vegetables sold in farmer’s markets and Asian-oriented markets throughout the Central Valley. Contemplate the realm of so-called ethnic vegetables like mustard greens, tomatillos, and long beans that don’t make the rolls. Reduced to commodities, much of the vibrancy of food disappears.
While we don’t have much hard data, it isn’t hard to imagine how social and economic factors like identity, culture, and wealth might influence consumption and dietary habits in the SACOG region.
Local Affinities for Local Foods
Some areas in the six-county region have come to be identified with specialty fruit and nut crops, wine grapes, or other agricultural plantings that thrive in those particular environments, resulting in the development of distinct or notable food tastes. In the Old World, such foods have come to be understood and celebrated as expressions of place, wrested from the soil by knowledgeable farmers. The many appellations of Burgundy wine, some cultivated on miniscule plots, are a well-known example of this.
While intensive farming in the Sacramento Valley dates back only to the Gold Rush, enough time has passed for the association of place with food and farm to take hold. The Capay Valley is identified with almond and walnut orchards and organic fruit and vegetable farms; the valley of Sutter and Yolo counties with irrigated rice fields; and the Sierra foothills of El Dorado and Placer counties with apple, stone fruit, and mandarin orchards. To what extent do local residents take advantage of their proximity to this seasonal bounty, preferring a crate-load of local fruit at its height to a handful of less-than-fresh, imported fruit?
Cultural identities of varying origins and mixes can also influence dietary habits, though how to quantify them in food consumption statistics is anyone’s guess. Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and Punjabi farmers have had as much to do with what was grown and eaten in the region as European immigrants over the last 160 years. Today, the substantial Latino presence in many counties of the region (19.3 percent in Sacramento County; 26.6 percent in Sutter County, 28.1 percent in Yolo County, and 21.9 percent in Yuba County) must also exert an influence on the kinds of food consumed, vegetables grown, etc. Demographically slighter presences, like that of the Hmong, undoubtedly also expand the range of foods consumed in the region.
Healthy and Local?
While we did not find quantitative data on the consumption of ethnic clusters in the region, we were able to compile information on dietary health and poverty.
It comes as little surprise that Americans overall tend to eat more servings of flour and cereal products, meat, eggs, nuts, and “discretionary calories” than of dairy, fruits, and vegetables, contrary to USDA recommendations. In California, adults eat a mere 3.9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, far below the five to nine recommended daily servings, according to the 2001 California Dietary Practices Survey. About 19 percent of California teenagers, likewise, reported eating only three or more servings a day.
High-calorie, low-nutrient foods like chips and soda tend to be easier on the wallet than nutritious, low-calorie foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet, at the same time, Americans are spending less of their income on food. Consumers devote 12.5 percent of their average annual expenditures to food, or $7,158. More than half of that is spent on food away from home. Meanwhile, Americans are trimming their food budgets. While spending overall has steadily increased since 1987, the proportion of income budgeted for food has fallen.
In the SACOG region, there is some evidence that residents aren’t hewing to a healthful diet. In all six counties, more than 57 percent of the population is obese or overweight, according to data gathered by the California Health Interview Survey. Not surprisingly, counties with the highest obesity rates also have the greatest percentage of households living on an annual income that is less than twice the federal poverty level, or $39,612.
Diabetes, another dietary health indicator, is also on the rise. From 2001 to 2005, diabetes rates crept up in three counties. In Sutter and Yuba counties, 9.7 percent of adults had been diagnosed with diabetes as of 2005, up respectively 6.4 percent and 8.4 percent from four years before. Over the same time period, the diabetes rate rose about 2 percent in Yolo County to 6.3 percent of adults reporting affliction.
Yet in 2001, nearly half of the 695,000 SACOG region adults surveyed reported eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. (Keep in mind that people tend to exaggerate the good stuff they eat and to minimize their “bad” eating habits). That percentage increased along with income above poverty level, as the table below demonstrates. By contrast, only about 27 percent of SACOG region teens reported eating “five or more” daily in 2005.
Indicators also suggest that obtaining enough food to eat, not to mention its healthfulness or nutritive value, is a struggle for some in the region. In 2005, the ranks of food stamp recipients in Yuba County nearly doubled to 17.8 percent from 9.3 percent in 2001. The percentages of Sutter and Sacramento county residents on food stamps more than tripled during the same period. Low-income families are having trouble feeding their children: In 2003, about 56 percent of children age 6 or younger in Yuba County received food assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC). With the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent in November at its highest level in 14 years and California’s unemployment rate at 8.2 percent in October, the number of people needing food assistance is likely to increase in the coming year.
SACOG region farmers produce more than enough fresh produce to improve local diets and reduce malnutrition from substandard food. Even so, not all residents, especially those in low-income urban areas, have access to stores or markets that sell fresh produce at affordable prices. Residents of the low-income North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights neighborhoods of Sacramento, for example, have complained of having to travel up to 10 miles to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and of the limited retail options. In the Del Paso Heights neighborhood, which has a large Southeast Asian-American population, the call was heard; a farmers’ market was established in 2005 under the management of Soil Born Farm’s Urban Agriculture Project and with the participation of local Hmong farmers.
Low-income neighborhoods suffer from a preponderance of fast food joints and convenience stores, forcing bad dietary habits and compromised health on residents. In Sacramento County, the ratio of fast food restaurants and convenience stores to supermarkets, produce vendors, and farmers’ markets is 5.66. (In comparison, the ratio in Placer County is 3.84. ) In the City of Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, where 62 percent of residents are at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, seven out of nine retail food sources are convenience stores. Only one in nine meets standards for quality and variety of either fresh fruits or vegetables. Additionally, two-thirds of neighborhood stores sell fruits and vegetables at 10 percent or more above the county average, according to a Communities of Excellence survey.
More affluent neighborhoods would seem to fare better. Wealthier consumers certainly have better access to, and the means to purchase, fresher, and better quality food. Yet, there are opportunities to improve access in these communities also through the addition of farmers’ markets and stores that feature fresh, local food.
Additionally, the overall gap between consumption and production presents an opportunity for the region to increase production of foods that have a significant inflow into the region. Food inflows and outflows are discussed more closely in the next section.
Understanding the entire distribution system is a monumental task worthy of a study in itself. In this section, we start at the macro level and work our way down to the pathways of specific foods. First, we present an overview of the food distribution system in the SACOG region and its myriad sectors and components. Next we examine food flows in and out of the region through three examples: rice, pork, and processing tomatoes. Finally, we discuss challenges and opportunities for improving and increasing the distribution of fresh, regionally grown produce and agricultural products to SACOG-region residents.
The food distribution system encompasses every stage and every channel that food passes through from farm to consumer. Food distribution business sectors, providing a range of specialized services and operating on a wide-range of scales, include: farmers and ranchers; post-harvest handling facilities; manufacturers and processors; packer/shippers; brokers; distribution centers; wholesalers; retailers, food services, restaurants, and food banks. Distributors that serve the region have facilities in the region, outside the region, and some have global footprints. Many distributors operate as a subsidiary business or themselves incorporate various subsidiaries.
It was not possible to account for all the players of every sector, but Economic Census data does cover wholesale and retail sectors. As of 2002, 182 grocery and related product merchant wholesalers operated in the six-county region with a total of nearly $2.5 billion in sales. More than half—109—were located in Sacramento County. There are two clusters of produce wholesalers in downtown Sacramento and another cluster in West Sacramento. The wholesale sector also includes businesses dealing in grocery, meats, processed foods and those with specific target markets such as institutions and restaurants.
In 2002, the SACOG region had a total of 835 food and beverage stores doing $3.8 billion in sales. More than half of these establishments were located in Sacramento County and accounted for about 57 percent of the region’s business for the sector. Extensive supermarket, grocery, and government distribution centers serve these retail stores. These range in scale from five to 100 acres and are located in suburban areas both within and near the region.
Food Service and Food Banks
In 2002, there were more than 3,400 food service and drinking places, which did a total of $2.2 billion in sales. Six food banks serve the SACOG region, including three in Sacramento County. Together they distribute a total of 19.6 millions pounds a year and serve more than 300 agencies.
Direct Marketing Overview
In 2002, direct sales made up 1.7 percent of the region’s total production value at the farm gate. Direct marketing systems include farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs), U-pick operations and farm stands, and farm to school and farm to institution programs. These systems are tailored primarily for small and medium farms with a diverse array of crops.
The SACOG region now has 44 farmers’ markets, one third of which take place in Sacramento and Placer counties. Placer County has the highest density of farmers’ markets. Sutter County hosts two and Yuba County has none. There are about 23 farms in the region that operate CSAs. Direct marketing and selling locally (within the SACOG region) are not synonymous categories, since many SACOG region farmers sell at farmers’ markets and to restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In the SACOG region, most food flows are usually in or out, not circulated from producers to consumers within the region. There is no comprehensive quantitative data for food grown within the region that leaves the region, or for food produced outside the region that is consumed in the region. The pathways of selected food commodities help to illustrate these flows.
Pork was selected to illustrate an inflow, because it is an example of a commodity consumed in vastly higher quantities than the region produces (amount consumed is 350 times the amount produced) and for which regional production could potentially be increased (or consumption decreased). Other examples of significant inflows are poultry, beef, oils, and milk.
Rice was selected to illustrate an outflow, because it is an example of a commodity produced in far higher volume than the region consumes (amount consumed is two percent of the amount produced) and for which regional consumption could potentially be somewhat increased. Rice also illustrates product for which some percentage leaving the region returns as a processed product. Other examples of major outflows are pears, peaches, prunes, plums, walnuts, and almonds.
Processing tomatoes were selected to illustrate the limitations of looking at net flows. Due to the scale of the processed tomato industry the region produces a net outflow of vegetables (amount consumed is 22 percent of the amount produced). However, this ratio tends to disguise the significant inflow of many vegetables, most of them produced in more moderate climates.
Niche Market Distribution
In the organic sector, organic acreage has grown slightly and the number of organic farmers has remained fairly steady. However, the value of farm-gate sales of organic agriculture in the region has increased by almost 60 percent in five years (from $15.3 million in 2000 to $25.4 million in 2005 ). Today, many conventional distributors carry lines of organic foods; whereas in past decades, organic food distribution was a separate sector.
Distribution networks of ethnic foods from farmer to consumer was a foundation for some of the area’s leading distributors, such as General Produce. There are indications of a small resurgence in the network, fueled by the growing number of Southeast Asian farmers and a trend toward entry of immigrant farmers. There is also potential for growth if the region’s ethnic groups increased demand for locally grown ethnic foods.
General Findings and Trends in Distribution and Distribution of Local Food
There is increasing consolidation in wholesale and retail sectors. The demise of independent groceries decreases outlets for identified locally grown food because consolidation entails homogenization and undermines the role of the retail buyer as direct link between farmer and customer. Relatively few stores and restaurants in the SACOG region regularly feature locally grown food. Notable exceptions are the region’s six or so independent, natural foods groceries and co-ops. However, interest in featuring locally grown food is growing at mainstream supermarkets. Markets like Nugget Market, Raley's, and Whole Foods have a variety of initiatives to buy specific seasonal products and/or products from specific farms.
The main reason given for limited scope of local food is lack of consumer demand. Other reasons cited are lack of information about provenance and limited volume of products due to farm size and limited agricultural labor force.
In terms of potential as new economic opportunities in food and agriculture, promising areas for further investigation are: creation of a branded marketing campaign for regional farm products in order to foster demand; increase in the number and scope of retail stores and restaurants featuring local foods; and increased capability for the handling of local foods within the existing consolidation and distribution systems.
Two additional promising opportunities are: development of distribution, consolidation, and value-added facilities within the region for food currently produced in the region, shipped out, and returned in a processed form; and increase in the production of foods that could be produced in the region but are currently brought in.
Today’s food distribution system is so complex, it has become notoriously difficult to trace the food we buy in the supermarket to its source, not to mention the pathways it travels from the soil to the dinner plate (or the take-out container, for that matter). The greater Sacramento region is no exception. Yet it offers a most compelling story. The region is situated amidst some of the richest farmland in the United States, if not the world. It is a premier growing region for almonds, walnuts, prunes, peaches, and rice. The people we call “farmers” run the gamut from hard-headed businessmen and women who employ heavy machinery and factory-farming methods to extract commodity crops from thousands of acres to small operators that labor over a riotously diverse array of fruit, nut, and vegetable crops on 10- to-50-acre plots, committed to a very different way of life and the notion of sustainability.
Distribution channels for the fruits of their labor (or enterprise), likewise, vary greatly. As in many places, the wholesale food distribution sector in the SACOG region is undergoing consolidation. At the very same time, new niche channels are springing up, as consumers and producers find ways to exchange fresh, local produce and agricultural products with minimal handling. Some foods produced in abundance in the region leave the region as exports, a more profitable and well-established channel. Others, like ripe peaches and fresh-picked corn, may only travel as far as the nearest farmers’ market.
How it Works: An Overview of Food Distribution Sectors
The dominant food system in the United States provides most Americans with abundant, relatively inexpensive, standardized, “safe” food. To do so, the system depends on economies of scale, a dizzying array of food and farm safety regulations, and a compliant public to produce, process, pack, sell, and ship a vast volume of food. Much of this falls under what is defined here as food distribution. Distribution encompasses every stage that food passes through from farm to consumer. Some of these pathways are shorter; others are more circuitous, as shown in Figure 2.1.
Among the more circuitous are the pathways that bring harvested food from the field to a supermarket shelf, restaurant refrigerator, deep-fryer at a fast-food chain, or the school lunch counter. Although some arrive “raw,” most undergo a transformation into processed or packaged goods along the way. On the whole, the food distribution system encompasses multiple business sectors providing a range of services that move food products from farms, orchards, and ranches to consumers. These services include transportation, post-harvest handling, processing, storage, shipping, and sales. Below are thumbnail descriptions of each of these sectors:
Food Distribution Sectors
- Post-harvest handling facilities can be on- or off- farm and provide services such as cleaning, cooling, drying, grading, ripening, and packing.
- Manufacturers and processors transform raw farm products into simply processed to multi-ingredient foods. Low-tech processing facilities, for example those that might make juice or conserves, may be located on the farm.
- Shippers move raw and processed food by truck, train, ship, and air.
- Packers/shippers provide post-harvest and shipping services and are also often consolidators and farmers.
- Brokers consolidate products for sale but usually do not take physical possession.
- Distribution centers are large facilities, from 10 to over 100 acres in size and so are usually located at the urban edge. They serve as the consolidation and distribution points for retail chains. State-owned distribution centers serve as hubs for food commodity recipients like schools, prisons, and senior homes.
- Wholesalers buy raw food products in large quantities from producers, processors, packer/shippers, and brokers. They then sell these products in bulk to retail, food services, and restaurant outlets. The terms wholesaler and distributor are sometimes used interchangeably and are combined in the name, wholesale distribution center. A wholesale terminal refers to an area owned and managed as a single entity by public or private management. A wholesale district refers to an area where many wholesalers are co-located.
- Retailers include large chains that usually have their own distribution centers and purchase directly from large farms and brokers, often through purchasing contracts. Smaller retail chains and independent markets usually buy from wholesalers and sometimes buy directly from farms.
- Direct markets include farmers’ markets, CSA’s, and on-farm sales through farm stands and U-pick operations.
- Food service companies and institutions, depending on their size, operate like large or small retailers.
- Public institutions like schools also often participate in government-run bulk commodity purchasing programs.
- Restaurants, including small restaurant chains, independent restaurants, and caterers, usually operate like retail markets. Ingredient-focused restaurants emphasize seasonal and local purchases and have the flexibility to adapt to availability.
- Food banks and community food programs tend to glean from the rest of the food distribution system but also sometimes have purchasing contracts.
At the food supply end, the SACOG region is home to hundreds of food, beverage, and grocery-related wholesale and retail establishments. The region also includes several thousand food service and drinking places, a category in the U.S. Economic Census that includes fast-food chains, restaurants, cafeterias, bars, taco trucks, and take-out businesses. While it was not possible to account for all the players of every sector, we present snapshots of the wholesale and retail sectors. Not counted in the census data are the direct farmer-to-consumer channels for fresh, local produce, meat, dairy products, and other agricultural products from regional ranches and farms. A detailed accounting of these outlets is also provided below. Where possible, initiatives to incorporate locally grown or raised food into the mix are noted. (For an example of a cross-section of all food distributors, processors, and food storage businesses, see Appendix B, Table B.1, which lists such businesses in the City of Sacramento).
As of 2002, the most recent year for which there is compiled economic census data, 182 grocery and related product merchant wholesalers operated in the six-county region with a total of nearly $2.5 billion in sales . More than half of them, or 109, were located in Sacramento County. Less than a third as many, or 28, were located in agricultural powerhouse Yolo County. Yet Yolo County accounted for more than half of the region’s sales at almost $1.4 billion, paid the highest salaries in the six counties, and employed nearly as many people as Sacramento County wholesale businesses. Complete details by region and county for wholesale, as well as retail and food service establishments, can be found in Appendix B.
By our own count, 20 produce wholesale distribution centers and two general grocery and meat wholesale distribution centers are located in the SACOG region. In Sacramento, these centers tend to be clustered around Fifth Street and 16th Street. Distribution centers outside of the region, in Stockton, Vacaville, and San Francisco also supply retail, food service, institutional, and other establishments in the region. The largest wholesale produce distributors in the region are Nor-Cal Produce and General Produce.
- General Produce, which was founded 75 years ago by the Chan Family, started as a wholesale distributor for local Chinese farmers around Sacramento and grew to serve the broader retail market. The company’s two main facilities in Sacramento cover roughly 120,000 square feet. General Produce also operates warehouses in Mt. Shasta and Los Angeles. It buys and distributes fresh and “source”-processed fruits and vegetables from all over the world, with about half of the volume going to retail stores, 40 percent to food service businesses, and 10 percent for export. While the company continues to have long-term relationships with many small and regional farmers, it sources less than 10 percent of its volume from local growers. The company delivers food over 60 different routes, from Grants Pass, Ore., down to Fresno, and from Reno to Mendocino. They also deliver to clients in Utah. Notably, General Produce also “back-hauls” produce – they pick up produce in their delivery areas and bring them back down to Sacramento.
- Nor-Cal, the other big produce wholesaler in the region, operates an 85,000 square foot warehouse in West Sacramento, having outgrown its smaller facility in downtown Sacramento several years ago. Established in 1982, Nor-Cal is also a family-owned business and sources its produce from “major California growing areas and beyond.” Nor-Cal sources only one-to-two percent of its products from farmers in the SACOG region, and teams up with Unified Grocers to supply grocery chains like Nugget Markets, Andronico’s, United Markets, and Ray’s Markets. Nor-Cal also carries organic produce, an area once dominated by organic wholesalers like Veritable Vegetable.
- Also part of the wholesale landscape are locally based companies that emphasize seasonality such as Produce Express, a distributor to restaurants in the greater Sacramento Valley. Produce Express buys produce from all over California but serves a client base primarily within the SACOG region. About 10 percent of its produce comes from SACOG region farms. At the same time, the company has an exclusive agreement with Del Rio Botanicals in Yolo County to buy herbs and specialty produce and, in turn, to supply SACOG region eateries.
- For some companies with big ambitions, times are tough. J.C. Produce, which had a major distribution center in Sacramento (as well as others throughout California), closed down in October, after a ruinous internal dispute. The company had been part of Harvest Sensations, a division of Pro*Act that focused on up-market seasonal produce for restaurants.
- Regionally based produce wholesalers that have distribution centers in the region include:
- In Woodland: Yolo Produce
- In Sacramento: Pompei Produce Company, Banner Mountain Sprouts, Chicks Produce, Continental Tomato Packers, G & S Produce Distributing, General Produce Company, Lim’s Produce, Pro Pacific Fresh, Rohrer Bros. Produce, Superior Produce, and Tam’s Fresh Cut Pack
- In West Sacramento: Jim Hyatt Produce Company
- In Gold River: Gary & Sons Produce
- Dried fruit distributor Mariani in Vacaville and Stockton-based nut marketer and processor Diamond Foods, which reputedly distributes to 80 percent of America’s supermarkets, both source from SACOG region growers.
- Produce wholesalers based outside the region which service the region, include organic produce distributor Veritable Vegetable, Greenleaf Produce, which specializes in high-end, specialty produce, and San Francisco Specialty, which distributes both produce and dairy products. All reach into the region from San Francisco.
Grocery and Produce Wholesalers
The following are some of the region’s main wholesale businesses, several of which have facilities both within and beyond the region.
- United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), one of the largest national distributors of specialty, natural, and organic products, has a facility in Rocklin, which houses three of its subsidiary businesses, UNFI Natural and Organic Distribution, Albert’s Organics, and Select Nutrition.
- Unified Grocers, formerly Unified Western Grocers, is a retailer-owned cooperative that did $3 billion in sales in 2007, has a distribution center in Stockton, and does significant business in the SACOG region.
- Tony’s Fine Foods is a meat, seafood, deli, and baked goods wholesaler that operates a large warehouse in West Sacramento and distributes to local stores.
Other big players, based outside the region, with service areas in the region include:
- Keene, N.H.-based C&S Wholesale Grocers, one of the U.S.’s largest wholesale grocery distributors, has three California distribution centers: Sacramento (freezer and dry grocery; 350 employees), Fresno (grocery, perishables, freezer; 475 employees), and Stockton (grocery, perishables, freezer; 220 employees).
- Large, conventional food distributors with North American or global footprints include huge food service distributor Sysco (including subsidiaries Piranha, Fresh Point, and Lee Ray-Tarantino) and food-and-facilities-management services company Sodexo.
- Save Mart and Winco also reportedly have a significant presence in the region.
Limitations for Wholesalers in Sourcing Locally Grown Products
According to the two biggest wholesale distributors in the SACOG region, there are several factors that raise the bar for local producers. General Produce expressed interest in buying from local producers, if even to support local agriculture, and pointed to existing commitments to purchase chili peppers from a West Sacramento grower and summer squashes from another local farmer. But the biggest constraint, according to General Produce, is weak demand from customers, who shop for price and steady availability, not limitations in distribution system infrastructure. Nor-Cal offered a different diagnosis: Local farmers can’t sell in the volumes that large distributors want, and they lack access to a readily available labor pool that would ensure a steady flow of product. For Nor-Cal the biggest obstacle for the SACOG region is limited production, not distribution infrastructure. Produce Express cited the problem of lack of demand as well as the difficulty of consolidating product from many small farms into one location.
On the whole, General Produce welcomed the prospect of more locally grown produce, in particular all kinds of greens (cooking greens, cabbage, brassicas), fresh eggs, basic vine-ripe tomatoes, and summer field crops like melons, squash, peppers, eggplants, and the certain varieties of corn. Nor-Cal also conceded that there could be potential for boosting local production of summer row crops (again squash, melons, tomatoes, and corn).
Economic Census Snapshot
In 2002, the SACOG region had a total of 835 food and beverage stores doing $3.8 billion in sales, according to the U.S. Economic Census. More than half of these establishments were located in Sacramento County and accounted for about 57 percent of the region’s business for the sector. Placer had the second largest number of food and beverage stores, at 120. Yolo, El Dorado, Sutter, and Yuba all had less than 80 food and beverage stores each.
Major supermarket chains that serve the region include Safeway, Raley’s and Albertson’s. Each has its own distribution center that rivals the largest wholesale warehouse in scale:
- Raley’s has a roughly 35-acre distribution center in north Sacramento.
- Safeway operates a distribution hub in Tracy of about 100 acres.
- Albertson’s has a distribution center in Roseville of about 60 acres.
Limitations for Retailers in Sourcing Locally Grown Products
Consolidation in the retail sector, and the demise of independent groceries, means fewer outlets for locally grown food. In the past, proprietor-owned groceries forged relationships with local growers and customers and helped match-make supply and demand. In today’s retail environment, relatively few stores and restaurants feature locally grown produce in the SACOG region. It can be surmised that fewer stores still have produce managers who have personal relationships with many of their customers. Supermarket chains and big retailers deal in large volumes and make purchasing decisions to increase their profit margins. However, there are a few independent, natural foods groceries or co-ops that carry locally grown produce, including: Davis Food Co-op in Davis; Down to Earth Lifestyle in Camino; Noah’s Ark Natural Foods in Placerville; and Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.
At mainstream supermarkets, there is growing interest in locally grown food. Rachel Levine, executive chef at Nugget Markets, buys produce from a Yolo County organic farm. Placer Grown, the Placer County farmers’ marketing organization, has developed relationships with Raley’s in Auburn, which hosted “tastings” of locally grown food and placed Placer Grown signage in the store, and Whole Foods, which sources their stone fruit from a farm in Placer County. Others have told of past success with selling produce from El Dorado farms at Albertson’s in the 1980s and, more recently, apple cider from Barsotti’s Ranch and Cider Mill at Raley’s in Bel Air.
Other Distribution Sectors and Outlets
With the SACOG region’s major prune, peach, walnut, and almond crops, processors play a major role in the regional economy. This is an area to be explored in the future, building on the research that SACOG has already conducted.
Wholesalers indicated the lines between farmer, packer, and shipper are blurring. Some companies that began as family farms now consolidate other farms’ produce, pack, and ship it under their own brand.
Government Distribution Centers
One of the largest food distribution centers run by the State of California is located in Sacramento. Donated food comes in from the Department of Defense (fresh produce) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (food commodities). From there it is distributed to 46 counties throughout the state to schools, prisons, and other public institutions, including those in the SACOG region.
- Food Service: In 2002, according to the U.S. Economic Census, there were more than 3,400 food service and drinking places, which did a total of $2.2 billion in sales. We do not have a current count of how many there are now.
- Food Banks: Six food banks serve the SACOG region, including three in Sacramento County. Together they distribute a total of 19.6 million pounds a year and serve more than 300 agencies. There are no major food banks in Sutter or Yuba counties. The Yolo County Food Bank is said to hold a “movable market” where fresh fruits and vegetables purchased from local growers are given away, or sold at $4 per bag, to the poor.
- Food Pantries: There are scores of food pantries at churches and community food lockers around the region.
3.6 Straight from the Farm: The Direct Sales Landscape
With local farmers unable to provide the volume required by most distributors, most of the locally grown, locally consumed fresh produce, dairy, and meat goes through direct market channels. In 2002, direct sales made up only 1.7 percent of the region’s total production value at the farm gate. While the actual volume of produce that goes through these unorthodox channels is tiny compared to the tsunami of food through the mainstream food distribution system, it has an impact disproportionate to its size. At a farmers’ market, a shopper can meet the person who harvested the leeks, plums or apples she’ll eat. A box of the week’s produce from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program ties a city slicker to the seasons of a farm and of a place. These channels cut out the middleman, providing customers with better quality, fresher food, and farmers with a viable (if labor-intensive) livelihood.
These direct distribution mechanisms are tailored to small and medium-size farms with a diverse array of crops. Most of the farms remaining in Placer County, for example, are small farms. By one estimate, there are some 300 farms of less than five acres. For Placer County small farms, up to 90 percent of their agriculture income is generated by direct sales.
The most well known direct route from farm to consumer is the farmers’ market. The SACOG region now has 44 farmers’ markets, one third of which take place in Sacramento and Placer counties. Of all the counties in the region, Placer has the highest density of farmers’ markets at 0.45 markets per 10,000 people, compared to 0.20 per 10,000 people for the region as a whole. Yuba County does not have a single farmer’s market, and Sutter County hosts only two.
While the number of farmers’ markets has certainly grown in the region, it is also worth investigating why some of the region’s farms bypass SACOG region markets for the farmers’ market circuits in the Bay Area. In the previous section, wholesalers asserted that consumer demand for locally grown food from their retail, restaurant, and other clients is weak. It appears that there is also room for growth in consumer interest in buying locally grown food at direct market outlets.
Another direct link from farm to consumer is Community Supported Agriculture, in which farms deliver weekly or biweekly boxes of food to subscribers. Originally, this system was devised with the notion that farmer and customer lived in the same community. The reality today is quite different: Many farms deliver their CSA boxes far and wide, again, down to the further reaches of the Bay Area.
Yolo County is particularly active with direct marketing. Its farmers run half of the two dozen CSA’s in the SACOG region. It has a high proportion of organic growers and smaller, family farms oriented toward sustainable agriculture, and at the same time, it encompasses a strong commodity-centered agricultural sector. Although primarily commodity processing, “Yolo County has the highest direct marketing percentage of any country in the nation,” according to resident author and food expert, Georgeanne Brennan. Brennan also credits Yolo County farms like Full Belly Farm and Durst Farm with being among the first to begin marketing directly to restaurants. Some Yolo farmers have stopped going to farmers’ markets and have quietly switched to doing CSA’s, she said. Some also deliver fresh produce to corporate clients.
Other examples of farmer-to-consumer channels include a meat buyer’s club, recently launched by several ranchers in Placer County, and another project to build a roving poultry-processing trailer that will sell directly to consumers.
Many people also take it upon themselves to visit farms to pick their own fruit or nuts, called a U-pick, or to stop by a farm stand to purchase seasonal produce. The best example of this in the region is Apple Hill in El Dorado County. Visitors who go to pick apples and to experience the place keep the orchards afloat. This ties into agricultural tourism, which is discussed in the Agritourism component of this report.
Distributors that can guarantee volume, safety, and supply typically supply school cafeterias, corporate cafeterias, hospitals and the like. But even in this realm, small and medium-scale farms are making inroads. Kaiser Permanente holds farmers’ markets at its facilities throughout the Bay Area and encourages the consumption of fresh, locally grown produce. Farm-to-School programs seek to supply school cafeterias with fruits and vegetables from local farms, enhancing children’s health, providing a market for local farmers, and educating children about what they eat.
In the SACOG region, several schools have experimented with the model. In 2001, the Davis Joint Unified School District launched a farmers’ market salad bar, offered daily as an alternative to the regular hot meal. The salad bar features a buffet-like spread of fruits and vegetables in season from local farms. In Sacramento County, Pacific Elementary School experimented with an after-school produce stand, stocked with mandarin oranges, Fuyu persimmons, Napa cabbage and other fruits and vegetables purchased at a local farmers’ market. Sodaro Orchards in Yuba County supplies the Marysville Joint Unified School District with peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes.
Farms that Sell Locally
Altogether some 231 farms and ranches in the region sell their products locally – in farmers’ markets, CSA’s, farm stands, food co-ops and groceries, and in restaurants. Region-wide, that’s about one farm that sells locally for every 10,000 people. Yolo County has the highest number of such farms, at 71, followed by El Dorado with 67 and Placer with 58. As for restaurants that serve locally grown food, we counted nine, three of them in Davis. But there are surely more.
Food Flows in and out of the Region
Above we describe ways in which food that is grown in the region is also distributed and consumed in the region. But as we know, most food flows are usually either in or out – not circular.
To our knowledge, it simply isn’t possible to obtain comprehensive quantitative data for food grown within the region that leaves the region, or for food produced outside the region that enters and is consumed in the region. Yet our interviews with wholesalers indicate that much of what they distribute to markets and restaurants comes from outside the region. And our own analysis of food production and consumption estimates for the six counties suggests that there is much movement. So, in this section, we adopt a different approach to food distribution: We examine the pathways of food commodities.
As discussed in the Consumption Section, we noted a few commodities and products that are likely consumed in vastly higher quantities than the region produces. In most cases, the food products could be easily produced within the region, and so merit closer examination. These products include many staple foods, such as pork, poultry, beef, and oils. On the other hand, there are many agricultural commodities that are grown in abundance in the region, far more than regional residents are likely to consume. These crops tend to be some of the region’s signature agricultural products like rice, pears, peaches, prunes, plums, walnuts, and almonds. It is safe to assume that these foods are flowing out of the region to supply markets across the country and, in many cases, overseas.
Below we examine the pathways of:
- Rice and processing tomatoes, as examples of food that is grown within the region and that leaves the region.
- Pork, as an example of food that is produced outside of the region, but not in any significant volume within the region, and that enters the region.
Food Outflows: Rice and Processing Tomatoes
- The Sacramento Valley is the prime rice-growing region in California and one of two main rice-growing regions in the U.S. (The other is in the South, along the Gulf Coast and along the Mississippi River, in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Missouri).
- The SACOG region produced more than 680,000 tons of rice in 2006, but, according to consumption estimates, regional residents would probably consume less than two percent of that harvest.
- Rice was a top crop by market value for Sutter County, bringing in nearly $137 million in 2007.
- Sutter, Yuba, and Yolo counties are “primary” and “significant” rice-growing counties in California. Placer and Sacramento counties grow less than 10,000 acres each.
- Roughly 30 to 40 percent of the rice grown in California is grown in the SACOG region.
Where the rice goes, depends on its market. But one thing is for certain: Very little of it stays in the SACOG region.
The Sacramento Valley grows mainly medium-grain rice, a plump, chewy rice variety favored in Northeast Asia (Japan, Korea, Taiwan) and the Middle East (e.g., Turkey, Syria, Jordan). It’s the kind of rice that is served in a sushi roll or a teriyaki bowl at a Japanese-American restaurant and is known in some quarters as “Japanese rice.” It’s not the long-grain rice variety favored by “mainstream” and Latino American consumers—this type of rice doesn’t grow well in the Sacramento region. Nor is it the Jasmine rice variety, which is grown primarily in Thailand and is the rice of choice of many Chinese Americans. In short, as table rice, Sacramento Valley’s “Japanese” rice has a limited domestic market.
But in the U.S., the Sacramento Valley is the only place where farmers grow medium-grain, Japanese rice. And demand from overseas is strong. Depending on the year, 40 to 50 percent of California’s (and therefore Sacramento Valley’s) rice crop is exported to Asia and the Middle East. The rest of the crop is sold domestically, as table rice, and as broken rice that is used in industrial processes like brewing or transformed into rice products like Rice Krispies, rice flour, Clif Bars, and more.
Here’s how it works:
- Trucks bring harvested rice to dryers. (There are hundreds of dryers in the valley. They tend to be close to the fields where the rice is harvested).
- Rice is dried and stored until called by the mill.
- Trucks take dried rice to a mill. There are about 20 active brokers and at least 12 mills in California, by one estimate. Four mills in the SACOG region together constitute 40 to 50 percent of California’s rice milling capacity. They are:
- Farmers’ Rice Cooperative (FRC) – Largest grower-owned cooperative (700 members) says it processes more than 20 percent of California’s rice crop. Its mill, one of the largest in the region, is in West Sacramento near the Port of Sacramento. Sixty percent of rice milled there is marketed in the U.S. and its territories. Forty percent goes overseas.
- Pacific International Rice Inc (PIRMI) – Half of the 850 million pounds of rough rice this company mills goes to parent company Anheuser-Busch’s beer breweries in Fairfield and Los Angeles. The other half goes to sake plants in Berkeley, Folsom, and Los Angeles; Japanese food distributors; and fast-food chains for “teriyaki bowls.”
- SunFoods – A venture formed by SunRice Australia, after taking over the assets of Gold River Mills, including a mill in Woodland.
- PGP International – A division of Associated British Foods, this company specializes in rice flours and other rice products for items like nutrition bars. It has a 158,400 square foot facility in Woodland.
After harvest, rice does not necessarily go to the closest mill. On the contrary, rice harvested at the southern end of the growing area may end up being milled in Colusa County, to the north. There are more than twice as many mills in Colusa, Butte, and Glenn counties as there are in the SACOG region, ranging from giant ADM to organic grower-processor Lundberg Family farms. If the rice is bound for Japan or Turkey, it will be loaded into a truck, transported to the Port of Sacramento or Port of Stockton (by semi-truck), and loaded onto a 15,000-20,000-ton cargo ship. Some shipments may also leave from the Port of Oakland in a container. The Port of Sacramento, in West Sacramento, is by far the most important portal for rice exports from the valley. Bulk and sack rice is consistently one of the port’s biggest cargos: 37 percent of the tonnage that left the port from July 2007 to June 2008, or 217,367 tons, was bulk and sack rice. South Korea and Japan are the most common destinations.
Of the rice that stays in the U.S., table rice that is bound for domestic distribution is bagged at the mill, often using branded packaging owned by the distributor.
Most domestic table rice goes by truck to wholesale distribution centers that, in turn, move it to retailers and restaurants. The biggest wholesale distributors are JFC International, which has a facility in San Francisco; Nishimoto Trading Company, which is based in Los Angeles; and Nomura. Some also goes to the Sysco distribution center in North Natomas and to U.S. Food Service. Broken rice bound for processing into food products gets loaded onto trucks in intermodal compartments, taken to the train depot, and then “piggy-backed” by rail to Battle Creek, Michigan, to be made into Rice Krispies, or to other factory destinations.
If Sutter County is the center of SACOG rice production, Yolo County is the heart of the region’s processing tomato industry. While SACOG region residents could consume more locally grown rice than they do (if they developed a taste for Japanese rice or if more long-grain rice was produced), they might not have a chance to intercept a tomato on the fast track to becoming a sealed and sanitized bag of tomato paste.
Grown from high-tech seeds developed in Davis, transplants are raised in Yolo and Sacramento County greenhouses. The transplants are shipped to the Central Valley and other growing areas. In Yolo, they are planted between Woodland and Dixon and grown under a contract with a processing plant, which stipulates not only that the tomatoes be delivered not only on a particular day but within the time frame of a couple of hours. Most of the tomatoes are delivered to contract or company plants. Yolo tomatoes probably end up at the three biggest plants in the region: Pacific Coast Producers, a growers’ co-operative, Campbell’s in Dixon, and Morning Star in Colusa County.
At the plants, the tomatoes are washed, steamed, boiled, and packaged, some as paste, and some as chopped tomatoes. The process from harvest to packaged paste takes less than 24 hours. From there the packaged paste and pulp heads out of the region to soup, ketchup, salsa, and other factories.
Processing tomatoes hold together a row crop farming system, because they can be rotated with other crops like alfalfa and wheat. They’re also a high-value commodity crop, bringing in $2,000 to $4,000 per acre, by one estimate. In 2007, Yolo’s processing tomato industry topped $100 million, but the party may not last. There’s competition from almond growers for land and increasing consolidation in the processing industry.
Processing tomatoes are a typical example of food grown in abundance in the SACOG region that rarely graces local dinner tables. According to our comparison of consumption and production estimates in the Food Consumption Section, SACOG residents are estimated to eat only 6 percent of the tomatoes grown in the region, one percent of the walnuts, two percent of the plums, five percent of the pears, six percent of the peaches, 10 percent of the prunes, and 11 percent of the almonds. Could some of these local foods be diverted toward regional markets?
Food In-flows: Pork, for Example
Meat is a completely different story. The SACOG region consumes magnitudes more than it produces. SACOG residents are estimated to eat nearly four times as much beef and six times as much poultry as is raised in the region. Pork is the biggest deficit. The SACOG region currently produces 206 tons of pork, and consumes 72,639 tons (~70 lbs of pork per person per year). The region consumes more than 350 times more pork than it produces.
Pork production in the U.S. is currently concentrated in the Corn Belt states (Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois) and in North Carolina. Conditions on pig farms aren’t great, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
“There has been a significant change in how and where hogs are produced in the U.S. over the past 50 years. Low consumer prices, and therefore low producer prices, have resulted in larger, more efficient operations, with many smaller farms no longer able to produce pigs profitably.”
Pork production has also received a significant amount of attention for the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, and the social, economic and environmental consequences of these large feedlots.
The majority of live pigs brought into the state arrive in southern California. The state imports approximately 2-3 million live swine per year. One major slaughterhouse in Los Angeles kills about 1,000 head of swine per day. According to a USDA Animal Health Permits staff person the amount of live pigs brought into the SACOG region is probably negligible, and there are very few slaughterhouses in the region. Pigs move from the farms where they are raised to slaughterhouses and processing plants. They are once again transported to refrigerated warehouses before they are again moved to retail outlets such as grocery stores or restaurants. This “cold chain” of movement involves a significant amount of transportation resources.
The pork that is brought into the SACOG region arrives primarily processed through distributors and wholesalers. There are two primary companies involved in the refrigerated component of the cold chain in the SACOG region: California Cold which has approximately 382,000 square feet of storage capacity in five locations (West Sacramento, Sacramento, and Yuba City), and United States Cold Storage in Sacramento which has over 2.5 million cubic feet in capacity.
One of the challenges that faces local pork producers is the fact that pigs are, for the most part, grain-fed. It is cheaper to import pork than it is to import the grain needed to raise hogs. It costs approximately 12 cents per pound to import pork, and roughly the same amount for grain – but producers need a ratio of 4:1 of grains to pork. According to Paul Willis, the General Manager for Niman Ranch, the majority of California’s pork is coming from the Midwest. The process from farm to fork for Niman Ranch’s pork looks something like this (and mirrors pretty directly the conventional pork production process):
- Hogs are grown on farms, and then brought to slaughterhouses (these facilities range in size from 2,000 to 32,000 slaughtered pigs per day).
- The carcasses are then chilled and are transported to cutting floors where they are divided into carcass parts that in turn are shipped to
- Processors. For example, pork shoulder goes to Chicago where it is processed for Chipotle Mexican Grill; pork belly is shipped elsewhere to be made into bacon and fresh pork is sent directly to distributors who then pass it on to retailers such as restaurants and grocery stores.
Another challenge facing local hog producers is the fact that very few customers want an entire hog. Growers are faced with either finding end users for all the parts of the hog, or else selling those parts on the open commodity market, where they don’t realize decent economic gains. This is also a problem for smaller scale producers of other types of meat, in addition to the lack of processing plants available.
Pork and pork products also arrive into the SACOG region through another means – the State Distribution Center located in Sacramento. The USDA and Department of Defense commodities move through this center and are distributed to schools (for lunch programs) and other institutions. Approximately 290,000 pounds of pork moves through this distribution center per year. It is worth noting that 5 of the 20 commodities that the USDA lists that contain trans fats are pork products. Public health officials in the SACOG region, and advocates for farm-to-school programs, might well have comments on the health impacts of the commodity distribution program to schools and other institutions.
Niche Market Distribution: Organic, Ethnic, and Small Farmer Foods
It seems unfair to lump organic foods with “niche” markets, because the organic food industry has, in large measure, gone mainstream. For many years, organic farmers sold their produce to distributors that specialized in the organic market. Now distributors such as Nor-Cal have stepped in to distribute organic foods, territory traditionally inhabited by Veritable Vegetable and similar companies. In the six-county region from 2000 to 2005, the number of certified organic growers remained steady. The amount of acreage under organic cultivation in 2005 was only slightly more than it was five years before. On sales, though, organic farmers moved the needle. Farm-gate sales value of organic agriculture in the region rose respectably to $25.4 million in 2005 from $15.3 million in 2000.
Compared with $901.6 million, the total market value of production at the farm gate for the region in 2006 , organic sales seem miniscule. But the uptick in sales without a similar rise in acreage or number of farms is remarkable. It is quite possible that as organic farming increasingly gains viability as a business in the region, other players in the distribution system will feel the impact. Investigating the interplay between organic farmers and the distribution ecosystem is worth pursuing.
Distributors who focus on so-called ethnic markets is likewise a huge area about which too little is known. Some of these distributor networks, such as for Japanese-American and Chinese-American food-related businesses, are quite well established. Some distributors, as with General Produce, started out by serving customers within the ethnic community, expanded to other ethnic communities and finally to the mainstream economy.
Shawn Harrison of Soil Born Farm is interested in tapping into the distribution systems used by Southeast Asian farmers in the region and understanding the challenges they face to help improve access to distribution channels. There are myriad other ways to explore these less visible distribution systems as ways to channel locally grown food to residents. A major blind spot here is clearly the Latino community.
Small or Specialty Farmer
This is again an area that calls for exploration and a meeting of minds of RUCS participants. Distributors that try to unplug channels for small and highly specialized farmers must cope with smaller volumes and other difficulties. But many do. One example is Next Generation Foods, a distributor that aims to market and distribute locally grown foods. Examples of items carried are olive oils, organic rice, wine vinegars, and walnuts.
In this section, we highlight a few examples of marketing connectors in two areas: 1) local branding and marketing efforts and 2) Web-based organizations that promote local food consumption or companies that enable buyers to source local or direct-from-the-farm food through the Internet.
“Buy Local” Campaigns to encourage Sacramento region consumers to purchase locally grown food have failed in the past, but new energy is being put into them by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and Sacramento County’s “Grow and Buy Local Committee.”
Branding and Labeling Efforts to gain consumer recognition for food grown in specific areas are gaining ground. These include wine appellations, area-specific produce or agricultural products, and regional identities built upon agrarian, food, and wine values.
“Virtual,” or Web-based entities like the Growers’ Collaborative play an increasingly critical role in providing avenues for consumers and food purchasers to source local food.
As touched on in the previous section and elaborated on in the following two sections, infrastructure and economies of scale pose significant obstacles to the distribution of local food, particularly from small and medium-size farms. Despite growing interest in how and where food is produced, the conventional food distribution system, through which most food passes, tends to obscure the provenance of fresh produce, meat, dairy, grains, eggs, and oils. This makes it difficult for retailers to showcase locally grown food or for cafeteria managers to source local produce, among other challenges.
To facilitate more direct connections between local farms, consumers, and institutions, a whole host of organizations, Web sites, and initiatives have stepped up to the plate. Their aim is to educate the public about the varied social, economic, and health benefits of local and farm-fresh food and to promote its consumption. Some function as the marketing wings of growers’ organizations, and are aimed at bringing in business in the traditional sense. Above all, they serve the vital function of connecting consumers and institutions with farmers whose operations are often small- or medium-scale, family-run, or locally based. Such efforts vary greatly and form a key element of the SACOG region’s food ecosystem.
“Buy Local” Campaigns
Buy Fresh, Buy Local – Revived
The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), a Davis-based advocacy and education nonprofit, recently revived its “Buy Fresh, Buy Local!” campaign in the Sacramento Valley region. CAFF serves as the California coordinator for a national campaign run by FoodRoutes Network, based in Arnot, Pennsylvania. FoodRoutes encompasses “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” chapters in about 28 states. The SACOG region’s chapter of “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” counts 18 Sacramento Valley farms among its partners, as well as three restaurants (in Sacramento, Winters, and Davis) and five retailers (in Placerville, Esparto, Elk Grove, and Davis). For more information, see:
Within California, CAFF launched a similar campaign to raise consumer awareness of the provenance of food and to generate business for smaller, local farms for the Central Coast region. Through its “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” program CAFF aims to (in its own words):
- Increase visibility of local products in markets and the media.
- Open new local markets for family farmers.
- Educate consumers about the benefits of buying local.
The group produces printed guides for the central coast region and the Bay Area. Its Web site, http://guide.buylocalca.org/search.php, also provides an online database of locally grown food sources that is searchable by county and zip code and that allows consumers to identify locations where locally grown produce is sold. It’s not clear why previous efforts to launch a “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign in the Sacramento Valley apparently failed to take hold. CAFF was founded in Yolo County 30 years ago and has a long history of activity in the SACOG region.
Although locally based, “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” isn’t the only program that allows consumers to search their region for local food sources. Santa Cruz-based LocalHarvest (http://www.localharvest.org) also allows users to search a database for farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, food co-ops, U-picks, and other direct marketing channels. Consumers can also go to the Web site of the California Federation of Certified Farmers’ Markets, also based in Davis, to search for farmers’ market locations by county or region (http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com/find-market).
Grow & Buy Local Committee (GBLC)
Another effort underway to urge SACOG consumers to buy local is the “Grow & Buy Local Committee” of Sacramento County. Launched in August by the county Farm Bureau and Department of Economic Development, the committee aims to understand obstacles faced by local farmers who want to sell their products to local supermarkets, restaurants, farmers’ markets, and other venues. The Committee, which is slated to receive $50,000 in funding from the county Board of Supervisors, wants to help to make it easier for local farmers to sell their harvest to customers and clients in the region. The group also plans to research consumer preferences in the county and undertake public education, according to a press release issued in August.
Branding and Labeling Efforts: “Locally Grown” and Beyond
American consumers are accustomed to branding for processed foods like Cheerios or Kettle Chips. Such brands are a hallmark of the national habit of supermarket shopping, and labels certifying that a product was made without chemical inputs or according to the principles of fairness toward workers fit right into established patterns. Organic and fair trade labels are common now in many supermarkets, as is the “California Grown” designation. Advocates of local food are now pushing the concept of “locally grown” labels.
Such labels, however, beget the dilemma of defining what is “local.” According to one survey, half of American consumers see a “local” product as something that was made or produced within a 100-mile radius. The same study found that 37 percent of consumers believe “local” means made or produced within state. However “local” is defined, such labels associate a product or food with a place, a set of values, and even a sense of identity linked to place.
In California, from Ojai to Lake County, regional, local, and micro-local labeling and marketing efforts are myriad. In the greater Sacramento region, examples of local branding, labeling, and marketing efforts abound, ranging from tightly defined locales and products (apples from Apple Hill and mandarin oranges from Placer County) to wine appellations and broadly defined food-and-wine regions that are marketed as much for their recreational values as for their specific agricultural products. Unlike “Buy Fresh, Buy Local,” these marketing efforts reach beyond local consumers to draw in visitors from outside the region. While some of these are covered at length in the Agritourism section, we highlight several of these place-associated marketing campaigns here. For an expanded list of regional, state, and exemplary out-of-state agricultural marketing programs, see Appendix C.
Area-specific Produce and Agricultural Products
Apple Hill is a well-known, established local “brand” in the SACOG region. A few, more recent examples are also worth noting, such as the locally grown marketing and labeling campaign, Capay Valley Grown. Located in the Cache Creek watershed at the foot of the Coastal Range, Yolo County’s Capay Valley has built a reputation for its fruit and nut (primarily almond and walnut) orchards. In 2004, twenty-three farms and ranches in the valley launched the project with the notion of raising the visibility of their products. According to the Capay Valley Grown Web site, these founding partners “strive to sell a sense of place with their products: information that conveys value to end users while creating transparency about farmer, place, stewardship, and quality.” Indeed, the site’s wording seems to sell not just peaches, walnuts, wool, and organic produce, but also a whole set of values – a vision of a bucolic rural community and a lifestyle that is gentle on the environment and on wildlife. The groups’ logo, likewise, depicts golden fields dotted with native oaks, a blossoming bough, a soaring eagle, and a heron. Consumers of the valley’s bounty are also buying into the valley’s beauty as co-stewards of the land and resources.
It’s too early to say whether or not the campaign has been a success. But an evaluation conducted in 2006 found that while half of Capay Valley Vision’s farm and ranch partners believed the campaign had raised their visibility, few believed it had increased their sales, prices, access to markets, or feeling of security about their farm income. A consumer survey conducted for the same evaluation found that the campaign had high name recognition at the local farmers’ market in Esparto (82.4 percent) but lower name recognition at the Davis farmers’ market farther away (36.2 percent).
Also recently launched is PlacerGROWN, another local marketing group that has an attractive online presence. Like Capay Valley Grown, PlacerGROWN is membership-based. But it covers produce and agricultural products in Placer County, not a specific community or an ecologically defined locale.
Although its’ main function is to connect consumers with farmers by providing information on what area farmers produce and how to contact them, PlacerGROWN’s Web site also includes links to bed and breakfasts in the area and information on farmers’ markets, restaurants, and farm visits. PlacerGROWN appeals to the socially and environmentally conscious consumer, as evinced by its stated objectives:
- Develop expanded demand for locally grown and processed foods.
- Increase agricultural production profitability and opportunity.
- Create and promote a sustainable local food system.
- Enhance and increase economic development and stability in Placer County.
The organization is closely allied with the Placer County Agricultural Marketing Program, run by the Placer County Agriculture Department.
It wouldn’t be California without wine. The SACOG region has at least three wine, winery, and wine grape-grower promotion organizations, Placer County Wine & Grape Association, El Dorado Winery Association, and Fair Play Winery Association. But the wine appellation of the El Dorado American Viticultural Area (AVA), established in 1983, links the characteristics of place to the qualities that make the wine grown there unique. Wine that earns the El Dorado AVA label must be grown at elevations between 1,200 and 3,500 feet in the foothill region between the Middle Fork of the American River to the north and the South Fork of the Consumnes River to the south, according to the El Dorado Winery Association. Cooling breezes off the Sierra Nevada and direct sunlight on exposed hillsides are among the environmental conditions said to flavor the wine with a taste of place – a California version of the French notion of terroir. Interestingly, the 2,600,000-acre Sierra Foothills AVA encompasses not only the El Dorado sub-appellation but also parts of Yuba, Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.
In France, the system of Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) anoints wines and other agricultural products with the status of embodying the identity of a specific place and its qualities in the flavor of food or drink. For wine, the characteristics of place have as much to do with soils as with the methods and the know-how employed to cultivate, harvest, age, and make wine from the grapes, in a way that is appropriate to the place. American consumers appreciation of the connection between food and place on American soil has started with wine, as is illustrated by the AVA system.
Unlike the El Dorado wine appellation, which is specific to a particular product and a region, or the Capay Valley Grown label, which emphasizes one valley, one community, A Taste of Yolo is an altogether different beast. This Yolo County-run marketing campaign seeks to “brand” an entire region and all the food, wine, and recreational values it offers to the visitor. The campaign to promote the agricultural values of an entire county emphasizes seasonal foods and specialties of the region, such as olive oil, wineries, and fresh produce. Restaurants and a feature highlighting produce in season and how to cook and serve it also feature prominently.
Edible Sacramento, a magazine and a Web site that is part of the Edible Communities publishing company, follows a similar principle in illuminating the seasonal aspects of the Sacramento region’s agricultural and culinary offerings (http://www.ediblesacramento.com).
While “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” helps consumers locate sources of local produce online and A Taste of Yolo cues visitors into the values and attractions of agricultural Yolo County, some “virtual connecters” get right down to the business of linking up local farmers and growers with institutional buyers.
Originally founded in 2005 to bring local produce into schools, the Growers’ Collaborative is often described as a “virtual farmers’ market”. It enables schools, universities, hospitals, and corporate cafeterias to place orders online for produce and other agricultural products from family farms. A program of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), the Growers’ Collaborative combines produce from its member farms, thereby overcoming the volume barrier that traditionally has kept smaller, family-owned farm operations from getting a foothold in the institutional supply market. The organization also makes efforts to include small farms that may not have had access to such markets because of language or cultural barriers. It also functions as a distributor, but unlike many distributors, the group traces the provenance of the food it supplies, aims to deliver food within two days of harvest, helps clients plan food budgets around seasonal and locally available items, and goes out of its way to work with organic farmers. In addition to the Sacramento Valley, the Grower’s Collaborative also operates in Los Angeles, the central coast, and Ventura.
Other Internet-based connectors, like LocalHarvest, mentioned above, receive mention throughout this assessment, and nearly all of the local agriculture and food promotion campaigns have some sort of Web presence.
Other Connectors – Focus on Education
Farm-to-school and farm-to-institution programs clearly have educational benefits, but their main purpose is distribution of locally grown food. These are discussed in the Food Distribution section.
- Agritourism is a key element of the SACOG region’s food system, with 450 operations, including well established brands, regions and events.
- More data is required to estimate economic benefit.
- In El Dorado, Agriculture Commissioner Bill Stephans estimates that agritourism contributes $285 million of the region’s $440 million in agriculture.
- No central source of information exists for people wishing to locate activities.
- There are mixed reactions to the regulatory environment. Many new regulations are hailed as positive developments. Key sticking points, however, include an unclear regulatory process and frustration with regulations that are one-size-fits-all and skewed to large size.
- Increased demand for local products as a result of agritourism participation has been identified in other states.
- Main opportunities for agritourism include: fulfilling trends in the broader tourism industry; increasing urban residents’ connection to rural lands, farming and local food products; providing economic benefit on-farm and in the region.
- Primary challenges of agritourism include: subdivision of agricultural lands for development; farmers’ need to develop the necessary skill set, infrastructure and employee base for operations; complicated paperwork and licensing requirements and a mixed regulatory environment.
Definitions of Agritourism
“Agricultural and on-farm nature tourism can be characterized as businesses conducted by farmers or ranchers on their working agricultural operations for the enjoyment and education of visitors. Agricultural and nature tourism present the potential to increase on-farm revenues, and given, strategic management, might increase farm profitability. Additionally, since the majority of the general population may have little or no contact with agriculture, on-farm tourism also is one mechanism by which non-farmers can learn about agriculture and, in turn, support farm products by increased purchases made directly or indirectly from farms.”
“Agritourism includes a diverse range of activities such as farm tours, hay rides, petting zoos, pick-your-own produce, farm fairs and festivals, and on-farm bed and breakfasts. Whether the primary goal is education or enjoyment, agritourism can provide an opportunity for visitors to experience a farm setting and learn about how food is grown. Agritourism can also help supplement incomes for smaller-scale farmers, either by charging fees for activities or by allowing visitors the opportunity to buy products while on the farm.”
Benefits of Agritourism
Agritourism can benefit the regions in which the operations take place in many ways. “These include on-farm conservation practices for the purposes of education and, as mentioned above, diversified farm incomes and the promotion of rural advocacy from urban dwellers. Agriculture and rural space are recognized as holding amenity values, particularly for urban residents who may not have frequent access to open space.” In addition, there is an economic benefit generated for the areas that extends beyond the on-farm profits. Several states have undertaken research to determine how agritourism operations benefit both farmers and the regions they operate in. A review of the literature and its potential implications for the SACOG region will be presented below.
Agritourism fills a need for trends in the broader tourism industry. “Visitors are looking for authenticity, “real” experiences and alternatives to conventional lodging.” The tourism industry has also identified a growing sector of tourists known as “Food Travelers,” those visitors who are more likely than others to participate in food-related activities such as culinary festivals, driving a farm or wine trail, sampling local artisan products, etc. These travelers are likely to spend up to 50% of their travel budgets on food-related activities. The California Travel & Tourism Commission has seized upon this trend by launching a “California Culinary Initiative” which intends to leverage the state’s unique food and wine oriented lifestyle to attract travelers. This marketing campaign uses “real Californians” to highlight local food and wine favorites. Recent consumer research has shown that there is an active perception that food produced closer to home is safer than food shipped in. One recent survey by Deloitte Consulting showed that 56% of Americans thought that imported foods are “not at all” or “only somewhat” safe, and nearly nine out of 10 Americans (89 percent) would like to see food stores sell more fruits and vegetables that come from local farms, and well over two-thirds (69 percent) said they would pay slightly more for such produce.
An additional benefit of agritourism is that these opportunities create a tangible link for urban dwellers to the lands around them. There is emerging evidence to support the notion that participation in agritourism activities increases the demand for locally produced foods. The connection that is established to a particular provenance becomes a compelling reason to continue to support that region through purchasing locally grown products. Once the in-person connection is made on-farm, there is reason to believe that consumers will seek out locally produced food. A recent study in Western Massachusetts showed that farmers are using agritourism to develop more sustainable, local businesses that are not reliant on the highly competitive global economy.
Farm associations, other rural advocacy organizations, and state and county governments are making these connections across the country. For example, Buy Local Niagara recently paired with the Niagara Agritourism Center to sponsor the Niagara Food Festival. The festival linked the area’s agritourism efforts with the promotion of local food products. Oneida County, New York also recognizes the important connection between agritourism and buying local. A County Executive, Anthony Picente, said of the county’s recent local food market map production:
“Agriculture is a major part of Oneida County’s economy and agritourism is an expanding area of agriculture that will greatly add to that market. These maps will not only help tourists to Oneida County locate all of the unique agritourism destinations our County offers but residents will also benefit from the maps and will be able to purchase their produce and other goods locally. This increased knowledge of these agritourism locations will greatly enhance the amount of business they do and therefore become a great stimulus to our area’s economy.”
Salem County, New Jersey has also made the connection between agritourism and local markets. Recognizing that agritourism is becoming a major economic force in supporting local food production, the county is joining the efforts of the state’s agritourism operations with the promotion of buying locally produced foods.
The primary reason cited for establishing an agritourism operation on farm is that it provides an additional source of income for farmers. Farmers are not always driven to open these types of businesses strictly out of a desire to run them. With land values increasing and production costs rising, farmers are increasingly in need of additional sources of income in order to retain their livelihoods. This motivation presents a particular set of challenges to farmers, and is important to consider when looking at the benefits these operations bring to the region. Please see Appendix D Table D.1 for a complete list of the benefits and costs associated with farmers pursuing agritourism.
The primary challenges associated with agritourism are:
- “Establishing these operations can interfere with farming or ranching operations;
- It provides a low financial return at first;
- It is hard work – work that farmers are not necessarily trained for or in a position to develop the necessary skill set for success – this business entails personnel management, record keeping, marketing, retailing, accommodations, entertainment, etc. and this is in addition to these requirements for production.”
One local agritourism practitioner summed up her experience in agritourism by saying, "you cannot be risk averse and farm."
In addition to not always being equipped to establish and manage agritourism operations, farmers can also be faced with a regulatory environment that might not be conducive to developing and running effective operations. Some roadblocks that have been identified include: “obstacles and costs in the permitting process, such as unclear, overwhelming and potentially unnecessary regulations; a perspective that the permitting process is chaotic, confusing and costly. County officials also have concerns about the regulation of these enterprises, such as inflexible ordinances, and county policy failing to take into account agritourism concerns.” Operators need to understand and keep current with regulations covering land use and land development, public health and safety, environmental health, direct-marketing and general business. Agritourism operations could potentially be governed by several of California’s 29 statewide codes, and then additional county codes.
Innovations in the Field
In addition to the more “typical” operations described above, there are also new models of agritourism being explored. Another trend in the field is known as “agri-tainment.” Often used interchangeably, agri-tainment differs slightly in usage from agritourism to describe events on farm such as rodeos, or activities that have little or nothing to do with food production but are entertaining such as haunted houses, batting cages, concerts, etc. An example of this form of promotion is an effort promoted by the Central Coast Agtourism Council, called “Ag Adventures” (http://www.agadventures.org). Using the Council’s website and publications, visitors to the Central Coast can find agriculture-based adventures such as cattle drives, stagecoach rides and working guest ranches.
Resources for California Operators
California farmers, ranchers or vintners wishing to establish operations have a few different resources available to them. These include UC Davis’ Small Farm Center, the USDA-NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), county economic development offices, county Chamber of Commerce departments, and agricultural marketing departments located within county agricultural agencies (where available). While these resources exist, our interviews with local practitioners did not highlight much awareness or benefit from tapping into these services. One agritourism operator that is new to farming specifically mentioned her disappointment with the lack of support and knowledge sharing, and she felt that dwindling resources for these agencies and organizations has driven their focus to the larger, commercial-scaled operations.
SACOG Region: Extent of Agritourism Operations
The diversity of agricultural operations in the SACOG region offers a wide array of opportunities for agritourism. The research conducted for this report yielded a total of 450 operations in the six county SACOG region. Following is a description of the various types of operations found in each county.
Some counties, such as El Dorado, Placer and Yolo, have a robust agritourism sector. These counties have organizations and associations that promote agritourism, along with festivals and events that highlight the region’s particular crops and resources. Yolo County alone hosts 15 festivals celebrating its lavender, almonds, watermelon and other crops. Placer County hosts 11 festivals celebrating its citrus, eggplant, and other crops. Yolo County has a website called A Taste of Yolo that directs visitors to many agritourism operations and also highlights local restaurants and other food purveyors that feature local produce to carry the agritourism experience closer to home. The remaining counties (Sacramento, Sutter and Yuba) do not have as fully developed agritourism sectors.
Another component of agritourism is something known as “Farm Trails.” These associations link together the agritourism opportunities available to visitors in a sequential manner. For example, El Dorado County Farm Trails publishes a driving guide to 120 of the region’s farms, wineries and on-farm recreational activities. These efforts help to contextualize and promote the diversity of activities available in a region, and help promote the concept of legacy lands – a topic that will be addressed later in this report.
SACOG Region: Agritourism Operations by County
Worthy of particular note is the lack of a central source for information about agritourism operations. The statewide database maintained by the Small Farm Center at UC Davis contains a fair number of listings but is by no means complete. Appendix D to this report contains a listing of each county’s different resources on agritourism.
El Dorado County (177 operations)
- Alpaca Farms
- Visitors can assist with fiber production and milling operations
- Apple Hill
- Visitors can take part in apple picking and other assorted activities and purchase value-added apple products at many of the 50+ member ranches of Apple Hill Growers Association
- Christmas Tree Farms and Pumpkin Patches
- Fruit and vegetable u-pick operations including orchards
- El Dorado County has 54 wineries
Placer County (113 operations)
- Mountain Mandarin Festival, Placer Farm & Barn Tour, etc.
- Christmas Tree Farms
- Multiple mandarin orchards open to the public
According to Joanne Neft, a former staffer at the Agriculture Commissioner’s office, Placer County is fortunate that the agriculture department supports an Agricultural Marketing Director; this might help explain why Placer County has the 2nd largest number of agritourism operations in the SACOG region. Joanne believes that policymakers need to understand that the burden of responsibility for marketing agritourism operations should fall on shoulders other than the farmers’, who have full-time jobs running their farms.
Yolo County (86 operations)
- Olive farms
- Hoes Down Harvest Festival, Watermelon Festival, etc.
- Pumpkin patches
According to Georgeanne Brennan who produces the Yolo resource A Taste of Yolo, Yolo County sees value-added products (such as wine and olive oil) as key to diversifying the agricultural base and drawing more visitors to the area. The infrastructure is needed to expand these types of operations (processing plants, etc.). While these are not typical agritourism activities, Georgeanne sees them as instrumental in developing the authenticity that will attract people to the area. The Old Sugar Mill has started to fill this need in two ways; it serves as a destination spot in the Delta that functions as a marketplace for multiple wineries in the Clarksburg area, and the site provides processing capacity for wineries within and beyond the SACOG region. An area of growth that Georgeanne identified for Yolo includes hospitality operations.
Sacramento County (35 operations)
- Pumpkin patches, Christmas Tree farms
- U-pick operations
Yuba County (22 operations)
- Farm Stands
Sutter County (17 operations)
- Farm Stands
- U-pick operations
SACOG Region: Profiles of Agritourism
A Christmas Tree Farm and U-Pick Operation in Placer County: Snowy Peaks Farm
Jim and Ginger Armstrong have been the owners and operators of Snowy Peaks Farm since 1999 when Jim came across the property while thinning brush on adjacent US Forest Service land and learned that the farm was for sale. Snowy Peaks Farm continues its tradition of growing and selling Silvertip and White Fir Christmas trees along with providing an enjoyable forest experience. Choose and cut Christmas trees are available the day after Thanksgiving when Snowy Peaks welcomes visitors with hot chocolate, wagon rides (on the weekend), and beautiful landscapes and views for a picnic. Along with their Christmas trees Jim and Ginger grow hydroponic strawberries, blueberries, and a variety of Hatch chilies.
Snowy Peaks' hydroponic operation allows berries to grow in perlite and vermiculite and uses 80% less water and one quarter of the land if otherwise planted in the ground. Their berries are available by u-pick at the farm and found at farmers' market locations in Foresthill, Auburn, and Roseville when in season. Their Hatch chiles, also grown hydroponically, offer chile connoisseurs a local alternative to driving to New Mexico for these popular southwestern chiles and can be purchased already roasted at the farmers' markets Snowy Peaks Farm attends.
A Seasonal Farm Stand featuring southern favorites in Sacramento County: R Kelley Farms
Ron Kelley owns and operates R. Kelley Farms, a 50 acre u-pick farm and farm stand in the Sacramento Delta where he grows a variety of fruits and vegetables and seed crops. The number of small crops is extensive, including casaba, cantaloupe, honeydew, and Crenshaw melons, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, okra, eggplant, sweet corn, collard greens, turnips, and gypsy peppers. R. Kelley Farms has been offering guests a location to pick up fresh southern peas for 13 years and has been successful in expanding a loyal base of visitors from Fijian roots to a group of Canadians that have been traveling to R. Kelley Farms from their home up North for over eight years. Ron's farm stand is open to the public from July to October, however, he would like to lengthen his season by selling produce that is grown on other nearby farms.
The Hoes Down Festival attracts thousands to Yolo County's Capay Valley: Full Belly Farm
The Hoes Down Festival celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2008. Hoes Down occurs each fall at Fully Belly Farm, and has grown to include multiple music stages, agriculture-related workshops, an expansive children's area, farm tours, and, of course, locally produced food. The event began more than two decades ago when a group of women farmers in the Capay Valley got together to organize an event to sell dried flower wreathes. Rather than try to bring their product to the urban areas, they wanted to get people to come out to the farms and see where the flowers were being grown. This first event attracted 150 people, featured one local band, and it launched an annual tradition. The primary motivator for the Hoes Down Festival remains the same—to attract people to experience what it is like to be on the farm.
With the second year the organizers decided to make the festival a fundraiser, and they started partnering with the Ecological Farming Association, their fiscal sponsor from then on. All of the money raised at the Hoes Down Festival goes to support agriculture-related nonprofits in their area, including the local 4H Club, the FSA program in the Esparto School District, and others. The structure of planning the event involves a volunteer committee of about 15 people from about 20 different farms in the area, many of whom have planned this event for at least 15 years. The festival has grown considerably, attracting between 4,000 - 5,000 people per year, so now they have hired a staff person to help with the workload. The Hoes Down Festival earns event revenue of $100,000, and approximately $50,000 of that is “profit” to support the identified charities. The revenues have been at this level for about 5-6 years and a Full Belly Farm employee, Dru Rivers, explained that it has taken the full 20 years to get it this big. She considers the true economic outcomes of the event hard to quantify because the office staff provide thousands of volunteer hours, and it is hard to quantify the value of the marketing-related benefits. Dru explained that the Hoes Down Festival increases Full Belly Farm's recognition and number of customers at farmers’ markets, and participation in their CSA has grown about 30% in the past 5 years. Between 15-20% of their CSA client base comes from the SACOG region, and the other 80% is from the East San Francisco Bay Area.
A network of agritourism sites in El Dorado County: Apple Hill
In 1964 several local growers united in El Dorado County to form the Apple Hill Growers Association. Today the association is over fifty members strong and is a shining example of cooperation and competition within the agritourism industry. Each of the farms offers their own distinct experience which includes a range of activities from u-pick apples and apple wine tastings to pony rides and fishing. Many orchards sell value-added products that include apple donuts, fritters, turnovers, and, of course, apple pie. The Apple Hill season is typically thought of as an autumn endeavor; however, there is activity throughout the year.
While apples bring a vast number of guests to Camino (the home of Apple Hill) each year, many visitors are pleasantly surprised to find other agritourism amenities once they arrive. These attractions include Christmas tree farms, farms that produce olive oil, wineries and vineyards, a brewery, and a fudge factory. This symbiosis of agricultural amenities has produced a thriving economy within El Dorado County.
Yuba County's iconic autumn destination: Bishop's Pumpkin Patch
Bishop’s Pumpkin Patch was started in 1973 and is known throughout the region as a family-friendly fall destination, featuring u-pick pumpkins, hay rides, a train ride, slides, pig races, and plenty to eat. The parents of the current owner, Wayne Bishop, farmed the land in grains before starting the agritourism destination because they thought their field was too small for production-scaled agriculture. Wayne’s mother was a teacher and she was eager to have kids visit the land to learn more about agriculture.
After some time away, Wayne Bishop returned to the farm in 1995 and took over Bishop’s Pumpkin Patch, which was not an easy decision as the operation was not very profitable at that time. Wayne has expanded Bishop’s Pumpkin Patch to include newer features, like the corn maze, and diversified the offerings to include a "hamburger farm" field trip in spring. (School groups visit specifically to learn about growing and raising all of the farm products that comprise a typical hamburger, and then they eat one for lunch!). Approximately 80% of the visitors that come to Bishop’s Pumpkin Patch now are from beyond Yuba and Sutter Counties, and the total for the year exceeds 1,000 classes and 25,000 children. The family estimates that 90% of their business occurs during the 6-week fall season. The Bishops have 3 kids, 22, 19, and 17-years old, and they want them to try other things before deciding to take over the family's well-known agritourism venue.
An old-time farm stand in Sutter County: Stephen's Farmhouse
Just south of Yuba City in Sutter County is an old-time produce stand called Stephen’s Farmhouse, best known for the homemade fruit pies that catch your eyes the minute you walk through the door. The owner and manager, Sheri Stephens, estimates that about 65-70% of her clientele is local, repeat visitors. The farmhouse primarily sells local produce—things that the family grows themselves, or items they buy through partnerships with nearby growers. They also purchase some specialty products from backyard gardens (including pomegranates, quince, and other niche products). While her business has grown during the eight years that they have owned it, she describes her sales volume as being highly cyclical with the seasons. Holidays are busy, but after the first of the year the Farmhouse is slow until the warm days of spring. In order to deal with these slower times, Sheri has created other projects to increase her customer base and her revenues, like using the Farmhouse's kitchen to produce cookie dough for local fundraisers and hosting craft events in the yard next to the building.
The Stephens are an example of a single family managing a diverse agricultural operation that taps into both local and international markets. While Sheri oversees Stephen’s Farmhouse, her husband Jeff farms about 600 acres of walnuts, prunes, and peaches. The family also operates a walnut processing plant in Nevada, called Pioneer Nut Company. Last year Pioneer Nut Company purchased and processed approximately 3,000 tons of walnuts from growers across California.
SACOG Region: Regulatory Environment
There are opportunities and challenges that have emerged around the policies and regulations that affect agritourism in the region. The following issues in the SACOG region and at the state level are worth noting.
In some cases, through the course of our interviews, regulation and policy development was described as a positive development. There are two ordinances currently being discussed and debated in El Dorado County that will have a direct impact on the county’s ability to grow agritourism operations. A conversation with Laurel Brent-Bumb from the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce alerted researchers to the fact that two zoning ordinances were actively being discussed. A further conversation with Bill Stephans, the Agricultural Commissioner, shed further light on these. The first is known as the “Winery Ordinance” and the second the “Ranch Marketing Ordinance.” Specific language on the ordinances is available on the County’s Agriculture Department website at http://www.co.el-dorado.ca.us/ag/.
Both of these ordinances are trying to expand agritourism operations on wineries and ranches by creating opportunities for vintners and farmers to use the lands for purposes outside production. The winery ordinance, for example, includes provisions for vintners to host events such as weddings, concerts, and other events. The ranch marketing ordinance aims to expand the products available on site beyond what is actually produced on the winery or farm. The intention here, according to Commissioner Stephans, is to allow land owners to maximize the full value of their land beyond production. So, for example, apple farmers in Apple Hill would be able to host events during spring apple blossom time, and not have their economic benefit be concentrated during apple harvest season. It is Commissioner Stephan’s contention that the smaller farmers cannot compete with the produce grown in the Valley, and so he believes that farms should be able to capitalize on their most valuable asset: their land.
Meanwhile, a Winery Ordinance in Placer County was recently passed. The Placer County Winery Ordinance provides specific regulations and guidelines in allowing wineries to operate public tasting rooms and hold promotional events. The ordinance also includes definitions and standards for access to a winery, potable water, parking requirements, and obtaining specific use permits. On the state level, Assembly Bill 2168 was signed into law on September 27, 2008. The bill, carried by Assemblymember Dave Jones, is intended to promote the consumption of California-grown produce under certain specifications. Some of the main declarations within AB 2168 are as follows:
- Direct marketing of agricultural products benefits the agricultural community and the consumer.
- Direct marketing is a good public relations tool for the agricultural industry that brings the farmer face-to-face with consumers.
- Farm stands allow farmers to sell fresh produce and eggs grown on their farm as well as other food products made with ingredients produced on or near the farm, thus enhancing their income and the local economy.
Additionally, the bill amends the California Food and Agricultural Code, section 47002, to read: "California farmers may transport for sale and sell California-grown fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables that they produce, directly to the public..." Such language assists local farmers in getting more product to market while being in compliance with the law. Additionally, AB 2168 sets overarching standards that farmers can abide by when conducting business outside of their home county.
These types of local and state level actions were heralded as positive developments, especially because they bring clear guidelines for agritourism operations to follow. Of course, practitioners also described some of the challenges they face in the current regulatory climate. These are discussed further in Section 6.2 “Challenges Affecting the Expansion of Local Foods within the Region’s Marketplace”, however, some specific issues that were mentioned include the following:
- Some farm stand operators felt their operations were being limited by not being able to sell produce from other local farms at their site, and restricted by not being able to sell value-added products like pies and dried fruits. Some of these issues may be addressed by AB 2168, but only one interviewee made mention of this legislation so it may not be widely known.
- Some agritourism operators who would like to install permanent bathrooms are either unable to link into city sewer systems, or they find the installation requirements for septic systems cost prohibitive.
- Seeking special event and conditional use permits for agritourism venues can be expensive and time consuming. While these regulations are generally viewed as a good thing to protect the rural landscape from inappropriate uses, the processes need to be made clearer.
- One site that features a train ride around the pumpkin patch needs to meet OSHA amusement park ride regulations, including four inspections per year and $1,000 in annual fees. While these regulations make sense for a park like Disney Land, the agritourism practitioner felt that the rules are excessive for a seasonal operation.
- Health Department regulations have an impact on agritourism operations. Again, the input from interviewees focused on gaining more clarity on the applicable requirements and streamlining the approval process.
SACOG Region: Economics of Agritourism
While there are a few known facts about the economics of agritourism, this remains an area that requires further research. The USDA has estimated that approximately 2.5 percent of farms nationwide receive income from agritourism operations, totaling about $955 million.
Only two states have conducted surveys that quantify the statewide economic impact (New Jersey and Vermont). The more recent New Jersey study determined that agritourism generated $57.5 million in revenue for the state’s farmers in 2006, part of the broader $37 billion tourism industry. The research also found that for every dollar in agritourism sales generated on a New Jersey farm, 58 cents of additional sales are generated in a wide range of other allied businesses, resulting in an additional $33 million in revenue. One practitioner provided anecdotal evidence of this kind of multiplier effect in the SACOG region. Wayne Bishop mentioned that restaurants in the nearby town of Wheatland tell him that they experience a peak in customers during the month of October, when Bishop’s Pumpkin Patch is drawing thousands of out-of-town tourists each weekend.
Other key findings from the NJ study included: “52% of farms earned at least half of their farm income from agritourism and 19% of farms reporting agritourism did not earn any revenue from agritourism activities, finding value in the opportunity to engage in interactions with the public that promote awareness, appreciation and understanding of agriculture.” This study was completed after an initial assessment of the opportunities for agritourism in the state was completed in 2006.
“Of farms involved in agritourism, the largest farms – those with at least 1,000 acres – have the highest per farm median recreational income. Medium-sized farms – those with 250-299 acres – have the smallest recreational income. There are some place-based variables to note, including the farm’s distance to a city with a population of at least 10,000. The greater the distance to such a city, the greater the likelihood of a farm’s participation in agritourism.
On-farm profitability statistics on agritourism can be difficult to gather for a few reasons. First, agritourism operations tend to be one of many activities taking place on-farm, and are seldom tracked separately. Secondly, some farmers are reluctant to admit revenues generated from such activities (or revenues in general). The Small Farm Center at UC Davis is attempting to address the profitability and economics of agritourism in a statewide survey to be conducted in January, 2009.
According to several staff people at multiple county tourism and economic development offices, there are no good statistics in the SACOG region to estimate the dollar value contribution of agritourism. Tourism offices maintain records on overall tourist data, but currently there is no way to ascertain what amount can be dedicated to agritourism. El Dorado County’s Agricultural Commissioner Bill Stephans states:
“I only can approximate the overall agri-tourism impacts by using standard economic multipliers. We roughly estimate the impact of agriculture to El Dorado County is $440 million which includes the wine industry's contribution of $187 million and Apple Hill's contribution of another $98 million.”
Commissioner Stephans also said, in an interview conducted November 3, 2008, that he believes the research for quantifying these types of economic impacts should come from the associations or industries involved in the promotion of these activities. His sense was that it can be very difficult to get information from farmers and ranchers, and that it is even challenging for the Agriculture Department to collect crop data, let alone economic and revenue data.
Promotion of Locally Grown Food in the SACOG Region
There is good reason to believe that, much like the other regions of the country mentioned above, agritourism activities in the SACOG region increase the support and demand for locally produced food. There remains significant research to be conducted on this front – that can and should include an assessment similar to the one completed in New Jersey.
Local Perspectives - Opportunities and Challenges to Expand the Region’s Local Food System
Previous sections of this report provide considerable data on food consumption, distribution, agritourism and local markets in the six-county region. But what stories do the people along the food distribution pipeline have to tell? This section shares the perspectives of stakeholders who were interviewed in the SACOG region, providing an overview of challenges and opportunities that affect our ability to expand the local food system.
Our interviews supplied a large amount of anecdotal evidence pointing towards growth in demand for locally produced foods. The rise in the number and size of the region’s farmers’ markets is one proof point, while the continued growth of Community Supported Agriculture participation is another. Successful farm-to-school programs coupled with new models to connect farms with corporate sites and other institutions demonstrate that innovations are happening in the distribution pathway. Furthermore, interviewees repeatedly cited their experiences showing that urban and suburban dwellers crave a reconnection with their agricultural landscape and the region’s farming heritage.
While there is recognition that demand for local products has grown, the interviewees explained that there are also multiple challenges that have impeded progress in the past and could continue to limit further expansion. To start, our ability to measure and understand current conditions is severely limited by data gaps found throughout the food distribution system. These gaps don’t just stymie researchers and policymakers—farmers, distributors, and other stakeholders along the way don’t always have enough information to build connections between untapped markets and new business opportunities and models. And, while in some areas there is an increased demand for local foods, in many segments of the population there is an education gap about the benefits and availability of local foods that hinders expansion of this system.
There are several potentially important “disconnects” within the current food distribution universe in the SACOG region. First, there is no systematic guidance that farmers can follow when they attempt to explore the various marketing avenues along the food distribution pipeline, so it is possible that producers are not finding their most profitable niche(s) within the system. Second, it is possible that the farms that focus on marketing products locally are not individually at a scale that can meet the potential demand of larger retailers and institutions, and thus the region is not linking effectively with these sizeable markets. Third, the region’s local farms have not been networked effectively enough to be able to collectively provide products that meet the supply and reliability demands inherent within the conventional distribution system.
Through our interviews, many opportunities for expanding the local food system also arose. Of particular note were opportunities that include expanding educational opportunities to improve consumer awareness. Agritourism is recognized as playing a vital role in this front in the SACOG region because it provides on-site learning and builds relationships between farmer and consumer. Likewise, our successful local agriculture marketing programs, like PlacerGROWN, and special marketing events, like the Marysville Peach Festival, benefit local producers in a direct way by attracting the attention of new customers each year.
Several ideas have arisen to improve farmer access to the distribution system. Some involve creating new infrastructure to support a network of farmers, like a central processing and/or distribution facility to ease the pathway from field to market. Lastly, the removal of regulatory barriers and the development of supportive policies, like the passage of the State’s farm stand bill (AB 2168) this year, can go a long way to enable farmers the flexibility they need to meet the demands of an ever-changing marketplace.
Challenges Affecting the Expansion of Local Foods within the Region’s Marketplace
This section explores the constraints that affect the ability to expand the consumption of locally produced foods, and it provides insights into the issue from individuals who represent various parts of the food distribution pipeline. We share the challenges that were highlighted during interviews with farmers focused on marketing their goods locally, as well as distributors, grocery stores, and restaurants who have been engaged in trying to sell more locally-derived products. For more detail on the interview methodology, please see the Methodology section at the beginning of this report.
Lack of Data Impacts our Ability to Understand Current Conditions
Data gaps limit our ability to measure and understand current conditions, and they can be found at almost every point throughout the region’s distribution system. A lack of data on small farms that are trying to market their goods locally makes it difficult to assess our current level of production, and to help farmers mobilize their efforts since their particular needs may not be clear. Likewise, distributors do not break out their sources of food to identify how much of what they sell is local versus non-local. This makes it difficult to track exactly how much locally produced food is currently being distributed to different types of buyers.
At the same time, the definition of “local” is not clearly defined and agreed upon by all parts of the distribution pipeline and the broader community. Finally, while anecdotal evidence abounds, a lack of hard data about the region’s consumers makes it tough to identify the reasons why people do and don’t purchase local foods and to effectively target new marketing efforts.
Education Gaps Affect Demand for Local Foods
Large education gaps impact the ability to expand demand for local products. There is a need for increased consumer education about what is in season and where to buy it in order to raise awareness about the benefits and availability of local products. Consumers may be unfamiliar with particular seasonal products. Even small efforts have an impact: Providing recipes and preparation tips boosts customer response, according to several CSAs. While the Slow Food movement is one way to address this education gap, there is a particular need for education among lower-income households which are often overlooked.
It is also important to educate chefs about what is local and in season. This need is being addressed, to some extent, by Produce Express, which only distributes to restaurants; by farms like Del Rio Botanicals, which holds a gathering for chefs once or twice a year to that end; and by events such as A Taste of Yolo, which is, in effect, a trade show for chefs. Even among the educated, however, the need is constant, as what’s available to restaurants changes as production changes. Among the uneducated, there is an even greater need for education. According to one distributor, only 10 to 15 percent of restaurant buyers in the region actually request local food. Many farmers in Yolo County sell to Bay Area restaurants due to greater demand for local products.
Grocery buyers also need to be educated about the difference between purchasing from a small, local farm and purchasing non-local produce. For example, fruit from a local source will be picked ripe, not picked early and expected to ripen in a storehouse or en route to the buyer. This means that the product must be immediately put out for purchase.
Obstacles: From the Locally-focused Farmer’s Perspective
One of our overarching discoveries is that it can be very hard for farmers to know where to start when trying to get their products carried within new or expanding marketing avenues, ranging from directly marketing their own goods to working with restaurants, grocery stores, and food distributors. Right now each farmer is required to do an independent assessment of where they fit in to a complex food network, and make their own determinations about where they will try to sell their products with maximum ease and profitability. Several local producers described their efforts to sell their products within the existing distribution network as explorations without any background information. One interviewee said she felt like she was making it up along the way and “re-creating the wheel, many times over.”
Working with distributors
Typically, growers need to work with distributors to get their product into groceries or local restaurants, and this channel can be limiting for a few reasons. Working with a “middleman”, rather than selling directly to the consumer, can cut into profitability. One grower, attempting to pursue a working relationship with a distributor, faced two different issues with two different distributors. One specialty distributor seemed to be a “closed” network to newcomers, and did not have the capacity or will to work with a new producer. Another distributor wanted to select only one type of fruit to purchase from the diversified farm rather than buying a majority of the available products, which made setting up a working relationship undesirable.
Working with grocery stores
Local farmers mentioned several reasons why bypassing a distributor and working with grocery stores directly can be a difficult path as well. Similar to the issue faced with distributors, some grocery stores want the prices to be lowered below what the farmer is willing to accept. It is easier for grocery stores to work with a minimal number of food suppliers, so they just need to deal with paying a small number of invoices, and coordinating orders with a small number of providers. This has made it challenging for one of our interviewees to get her fruit jams in her community’s stores.
Grocery stores also prefer the convenience factor. Major food distributors, for example Frito Lay, will stock the shelves and provide other efficiencies associated with large-scale operations, and small growers have difficulty competing with this commercial level of service. One interviewee explained that in order to sell her jams in the grocery store, she'd be forced to provide all of the service and convenience of larger, mainstream food companies.
Most grocery stores are used to working with products that come through the commercial distribution system. When one Yuba County orchard approached Save Mart to see if they would carry their product, they learned that the marketplace would want to buy firm stone fruits (picked before ripening). They felt this would defeat the purpose of trying to market fresh, local products. It was also viewed as having the potential to harm the “tree-ripened” reputation of the long-time farm stand operator.
When a grocery store chain wants mostly the same products in all of their stores, it is likely that many small producers are not large enough to meet the supply needs. Therefore interviewees agreed that, in general, local grocery stores and co-ops are easier to work with because they have a desire to feature unique products and tend to be more flexible with their food suppliers.
Working with restaurants
Local growers have also experienced that restaurants can be challenging to work with directly for a variety of reasons. Restaurants like to have the same conveniences as grocery stores—like getting a single invoice from one food distributor, as opposed to multiple invoices from separate farmers. Furthermore, according to a local restaurant distributor, restaurants generally have not expressed a high demand for local products. For their distribution business, only 10 to15 percent of restaurants in the region express a preference for local products.
Working with individual restaurants presents challenges related to generating sufficient return on investment. When delivering product herself, one farmer determined she needs to sell a minimum of $500 worth of products per restaurant to make the packing and travel effort worthwhile. This limited the number of restaurants she was able to work with, and most that made the cut were high-end venues closer to the Bay Area. Other producers have had to accept this reality as well. One local winery does not see their work with restaurants as a profit generator; instead it simply provides a means for advertising their product.
Selling directly to the consumer
Farmers’ markets are often regarded as a great way for farmers to connect directly with consumers and minimize their cost of goods sold. But local farmers also described a few limitations that exist within this marketing channel right now. One farmer expressed the basic need for more farmers’ market opportunities in the region. Additionally, some growers have not been allowed to sell in certain markets even if they are nearby, because there are other farmers with seniority at the site that sell similar products.
Agritourism operations seem to bypass the challenges of these other distribution channels, but many farmers who sell their products on-site mentioned that they would like to expand their clientele beyond those who can make the trip to their venue. Agritourism will always be competing with the convenience factor associated with going to a grocery store, and sometimes this time issue might mean the difference between getting and losing a sale.
Typical small business issues
As small businesses, local farm operations in the SACOG region struggle with typical business development issues that challenge many small companies, but they are not frequently aware of or feeling supported by the region’s economic development resources. Talented farmers sometimes lack experience in financial management and business marketing, but these skills are critical to the success of a local farm and/or agritourism destination. Several operations explained that the lack of detailed record keeping prevented them from tracking their cost of goods sold and understanding the financial dynamics of their agricultural operation. There was general agreement that many practitioners do not have enough time and training to focus on marketing their operation in a robust way.
Many agricultural operations have been handed down through generations, and the combination of family and business can cause problems within any small company. Disagreements over changes for the future and direction of an operation can stir battles that can have lasting damage on farm families. Likewise, small companies in town know the challenges of competing with the “big guys,” and locally-focused agriculture is not shielded from these impacts either. Concerns related to international competition for agriculture products are mainly fears about not being able to be cost competitive. In terms of quality and freshness, local producers know they have a clear advantage.
Obstacles: From the Distributor’s Perspective
While distributors expressed openness to providing more local products to their customers, their priority is being able to serve as a reliable source of a variety of foods for competitive costs. Therefore, when considering an increase of local foods within the system, their concerns relate to product availability, and the ease and costs of purchasing and transporting the goods.
Local product availability can be a challenge to distribution of local foods. To begin with, seasonal growing constraints mean that there are larger amounts of product unavailable in winter months after the surge in fresh product availability during the summer. Locally marketed products are often organic and, therefore, more expensive to produce. This means they have a harder time being cost competitive with other available options. For many buyers, cost is king, and this limits market expansion.
Certain products are simply not made in the region, or they are not made in quantities large enough that they are within the traditional distribution system. For instance, one grocery store explained that they were unable to feature a local source of goat’s milk feta cheese because they could not find a producer in the region. Furthermore, if a buyer wants the benefits associated with the volume available from a growers’ group, the buyer is limited to using only that group’s members’ products. A local product may be available from a non-member, but the collaborative can’t provide it.
Greater coordination between small farmers is needed
There is no resource within the current distribution system that adequately helps most small growers get their product to market. There is a need to get products from small farms to one central location so distributors can make their pick-ups in one place. Interviewees expressed a variety of ideas about how the region could work to fill this gap; while the ideas were slightly different, and perhaps complementary, all of their suggestions focused on fostering greater coordination.
Obstacles: From the Grocery Store Perspective
Grocery stores may be willing to work with local farmers as possible. However, one interviewee explained that their grocery chain had disappointing experiences in the past working with local growers. Even thought these experiences may date back as long as 10 to 20 years, they still affect some of the store management’s receptivity for resuming this practice.
Local farms need to fit grocery store needs
It was suggested that farmers think more strategically about the needs of the purchaser, like a grocery store, as they plan their operations. Farmers who are only focused on their particular method of operation, without the willingness to think more creatively, are less able to fulfill certain kinds of buyers’ needs. For example, farmers marketing to grocery chains and institutions might need to be bigger operations than farmers selling to other kinds of direct markets. These entities require a larger volume of one product at one time than individual consumers or even restaurants.
For grocers, making local products available may be constrained by the need to make changes to how they procure and sell food. These realities have implications that affect their costs and the ease of doing business in an industry renowned for tight margins. Currently, many grocers benefit from the ease of working with, and being invoiced by, a small number of distributors. This might need to change if they decided to focus on working directly with local farmers. Featuring local products can elevate the need to employ more produce department staff, since already-ripened goods must be stocked immediately.
Specific Challenges for Farm-to-Institution Programs
Farm-to-institution programs face their own specific challenges. One fundamental issue is that distributors don’t track the percentage of local foods they sell, so institutional buyers and consumers don’t know if they’re getting local foods or not. According to one source, Sacramento County made a commitment a couple of years ago to source local foods for their institutional needs; however, the lack of local processing made the commitment hard to keep. Institutional kitchens generally need food that is already prepared, or easy to prepare, and that meets their budget. Once a product leaves the county to be processed and packed, there is no tracking mechanism to know whether the product comes back into the county or is shipped elsewhere.
Some farms have tried to market directly to larger institutions in ways other than inserting their food into cafeteria menus. Farms that participate in Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, deliver weekly boxes of seasonal fruits and vegetables to subscribers. In the SACOG region a few of the drop sites for the weekly boxes are on corporate campuses. These drop sites are often not the most successful distribution locations, despite having a reliable market of people at the location each workday. One possible reason for this lack of success is based on the assumption that the CSA model hits a certain target market square-on, but it’s a limited market. According to one estimate, five percent employee participation in the CSA is good. This begs the question, how do you repackage the CSA idea to meet the needs of the other 95 percent of people?
Farm-to-school programs have their own unique obstacles. The farm-to-school effort in Davis Joint Unified School District provides several years of implementation findings that can inform future efforts. Several key findings emerge from this case study:
- Schools, as with other institutions, need packaged food. Packaging sizes are closely regulated, and not necessarily in a way that benefits the small grower.
- School cafeteria budgets are low, and that affects all aspects of purchasing local foods.
- School or school district leadership needs to be committed and supportive, and it is critical to have a dedicated food service professional.
- Particular labor issues arise with school staff and union employees, such as the practicality of staffing a school salad bar. The program and school administrators need to be willing to work with the staff to solve these issues.
- Having a Wellness Policy in the schools, as in the Chicago area, helps create an environment supportive of farm-to-school programs.
Regulations need to better support getting local foods into the marketplace. These can be broken down into three main types of complaints: the trials of navigating unclear regulatory processes; frustration with the content of the regulations themselves; and the feeling that regulations are developed with a one-size-fits-all mentality and are skewed towards large-scale businesses. The main concerns were general in nature; they revolved around trying to abide by county policies with nebulous guidelines and working with government staff who seemed unclear about the rules as well.
Regulations and fees that affect farmer’s markets
Farmers’ markets can be hampered by local permitting requirements and associated fees. In Sacramento County the permit fees are the same for both small and large farmers’ markets, with the Health Permit Fee increasing yearly. Other counties, such as El Dorado, are more flexible in working with smaller, or new, farmers’ markets. Market managers must pay the city, the health department, and the agriculture department to be certified. Some groups have been successful in selling on corporate campuses, which, because the property is private and the goods are not being sold to the “public,” doesn’t require the same permits.
Cooking demos are not allowed at farmers’ markets, limiting consumer education about the uses of seasonal produce with which they might be unfamiliar. Additionally, county environmental health regulations in some areas make it difficult to sell value-added products, like pies. This reduces the opportunity to provide a variety of ready-to-eat products to consumers.
Other regulatory concerns were mentioned that were specific to agritourism. These are discussed further in the Agritourism section of this report, specifically Section 5.5, above.
Larger Agricultural Issues Affecting Local Markets
Finally, conversations about increasing the amount of local products in the region’s marketplace cannot be shielded from the big issues that are affecting the full spectrum of agricultural operations in the region. Many of these challenges are being studied as part of the overall RUCS project. The RUCS project also has the opportunity to address one underlying issue of concern—the perceived disconnect between urban policymakers and agricultural realities.
The following additional concerns mirror issues that were identified as affecting agriculture as a whole during the scoping of the RUCS project.
Subdivision of land
Even though locally-focused farm sites tend to exist on smaller agricultural parcels, the operators are nonetheless feeling the impacts of the continued subdivision of agricultural lands. Additionally, the rising cost of land, driven up by non-farmers who purchase the land to build a ranchette or "McMansion," as one farmer put it, is making it difficult for new farmers to take over existing agricultural operations or start new ones. These inflated property values are realized once county assessors reassess land parcels with new, and often large, home construction on them. The reassessed land in the area in turn makes running a small orchard cost prohibitive for a new farmer, and increases the likelihood that an existing farmer will sell their property to the highest bidder.
Next generation of farmers
Additionally, there is a generational and legacy farming issue that many smaller operations worry about. A majority of the agritourism practitioners interviewed expressed concerns about who will run the farm once they can no longer do the work themselves. Several reasons for this concern were cited, including that their children had no interest in running a farm, being unsure if the operation would be economically viable to be passed down, or simply that there was no next of kin. In two interviews that involved "next generation" farmers, both families expressed hesitation about taking over their operations because of the lack of profitability, but a compelling commitment to their land and family heritage ultimately superseded these concerns.
Traffic concerns affect agritourism
Traffic concerns work two ways for agritourism operations. In some cases, a robust network of agritourism venues, like Apple Hill, can be a source of congestion on rural roads and trigger complaints within a community. In other cases agritourism venues have been negatively impacted over the past couple of decades by steadily increasing travel speeds and congestion on the roads that serve as their access points, like Highway 70 and Highway 99 in the northern counties.
Water cost and reliability
For some locally-focused farming operations the most critical issue is water cost and reliability, particularly in the Delta region. Cost concerns are not confined to that region alone; in Placer County farms are concerned that by converting to fully metered and treated water the costs will become prohibitive and they will ultimately be forced to close their farms. Additionally, many farmers felt that increased demand from residential consumers would take precedence over agricultural water needs.
Small farmers shared the common challenges of finding an adequate supply of skilled labor, as well as learning how to manage the diverse staffing demands that are unique to an agritourism operation. Obtaining an adequate supply of labor is particularly difficult during harvest seasons due to the competing needs not only of each county, but each orchard at times. During harvest season in El Dorado County's Apple Hill region, the smaller orchards have difficulty retaining labor when larger orchards can guarantee more work; likewise for vineyards in the region.
Opportunities for Expanding the Local Food System
Based on our interview data, this section summarizes the emerging ideas, breakthroughs, best practices, and new models that regional stakeholders discussed when thinking about how to expand the local food system.
Growing Demand for Local Products
The growing demand for local products creates opportunities for local farmers. Increased attendance at farmers’ markets reflects an increase in the size of the market. Folsom Farmers’ Market has been growing by one-third per year. The Placer region has seen an increase from their original farmers’ market to the 15 now operating in the county.
Locally-raised meat is also in growing demand. At Soil Born Farms, the recent addition of sheep to the farm brought in requests for purchase of the meat (Soil Born Farms is not planning on slaughtering the sheep; they’re being used for field rotation and wool). A newly-created meat buyers’ club in Placer County made $1100 in their first week. As is discussed in the Food Distribution section of this report, meat production and distribution carries a large impact on transportation and is a segment of the market that demands additional investigation to determine the right infrastructure and related needs.
Diversifying the client base
Agritourism practitioners identified the opportunity to diversify their client base beyond the people who are already in the habit of eating locally. Practitioners make compelling cases for eating and enjoying their products. They value the fact that many of their customers exhibit a sense of loyalty to their particular operation, but they are eager to attract new kinds of customers as well. Identifying new market opportunities might be the right first step.
The smaller-sized farms that were the focus of our interviews, typically measured in the dozens rather than the hundreds of acres, have the chance to explore niche markets and capitalize on offering a one-of-a-kind product. The heirloom and rare fruits, plus an array of bearded irises, are the unique offerings at Pine Hill Orchards and Iris Garden in Loomis. Snowy Peaks attributes their Hatch chili peppers as their “ticket in” to being a vendor at farmers' markets in Placer County. Sodaro's farm stand in Yuba County attracts peach lovers throughout the season with their 36 varieties of peaches and nectarines grown on site.
Placer Grown has demonstrated how a joint marketing program can have success in elevating local food consumption in this region. This nonprofit growers’ group works with the Placer County Agriculture Commissioner’s office and the Commissioner’s Agriculture Marketing Director. Jointly, they help local farms take in 80-90 percent of their income through direct marketing, including the approximately 300 farms under five acres in the county. Additionally, both Raley’s in Auburn and Whole Foods in Sacramento carry Placer Grown stone fruit. As one informant indicated to us, the support that local growers have from the Agriculture Commissioner’s office makes all the difference to Placer County farmers’ ability to market locally-grown products. Indeed, Placer County was the first county to support locally grown products with public funds.
Most operations are solely dependent upon word-of-mouth advertising, so these practitioners express a lot of appreciation for any county or regional level support for promoting their enterprises. Coordinated marketing efforts, like the Map of Yuba-Sutter Farm Stands created by the local Chamber of Commerce, help enhance the visibility of the agritourism sector, while reducing the need for each individual operation to promote itself.
Joint marketing efforts have also resulted in the development of many successful local marketing events, including the Placer County Farm and Barn Tour. According to an exit survey from the tour, 59 percent of participants had never been on a farm, and about 75 percent of the participants said that they would buy local after going on the tour. Local farmers cited events ranging from the Mountain Mandarin Festival in Placer County to the Taste of Capay in Yolo County as playing a vital role in raising awareness and visibility of locally-focused agriculture operations, while helping to broaden the customer base of farms and ranches in the surrounding area. More joint marketing opportunities exist in the region, including a desire to more strongly brand production from the Delta.
Expanding Education Opportunities to Improve Consumer Awareness
Educational opportunities that connect consumers to farms abound. Agritourism sites often serve as important components of providing hands-on learning experiences for people of all ages, and most commonly, school-aged children. Bishop’s Pumpkin Patch in Yuba County attracts approximately 1,000 classes and 25,000 children during the fall season. R. Kelly Farms in Sacramento County serves as a site for field trips that focus on inner-city youth.
The growing awareness of the need for increased availability of local food can be linked with concerns about food access and social equity. In a Del Paso Heights neighborhood which previously had no immediate access to fresh produce, a farmers’ market is now in its third year and has grown from one day a week to two. This farmers’ market began as a joint effort of several community organizations.
Another opportunity for community education is to create more “crop swaps” – community marketplaces, where backyard and community gardeners can bring their extra produce and trade with their neighbors. Residents can be shown how gardening as a hobby can be a relevant part of the local food system. Instead of the current focus on creating school gardens, one interviewee suggested the region consider creating school orchards. The orchards would not be dependent on the continued presence of one dedicated teacher, as school gardens often are, but will be there for a longer period of time providing both long-term educational opportunities and fresh fruit supply.
Education efforts could also focus on developing a toolkit for starting a new farmers’ market or other marketing opportunities. As both new farmers’ markets and local products increase, resources can be created to fill the information gap and guide new producers through the local, county, and state regulatory process.
Coordinating Farmer Access to the Distribution System
Several opportunities were suggested for improving access to the distribution system. One suggestion focused on creating an aggregation facility that serves small farmers and features some retail and processing. The idea of creating a central processing site for small farmers was furthered by another interviewee, who explained that institutions want to purchase product that is washed, chopped, and bagged. Shared processing for smaller farms is already happening in the Bay Area and could be expanded here.
In terms of coordination within the established distribution system, there is a desire to get products from small farms to one central location so distributors can make their pick-ups in one place. This centralized facility could also provide its own delivery of goods to existing, larger scale distributors. The region has some small-scale models of collective distribution efforts that engage multiple farms, such as the Growers’ Collaborative (detailed in “Marketing Connections” above), but they are not yet big enough to meet the daily delivery expectations of larger buyers. One suggestion is to increase the scale for the growers’ groups.
A differing opinion responds to the fact that not all growers choose to be part of a collaborative, and grocery stores prefer not to have competing distributors working on one grocery store dock. Rather than simply creating more distribution collaborations, they suggest pushing the region’s distributors to provide more branding and tracking of local products in the current system.
Policy improvements have been happening at the state, federal, and local levels, and there are ample opportunities for these kinds of efforts to focus on solving other local marketing challenges.
State and federal policy changes
Policy improvements made in the past year include the recently signed Assembly Bill 2168, which improves the ability of the producer to connect with the consumer. AB 2168 was signed into law on September 27, 2008. This bill strongly affects agritourism and is discussed further in Section 5.5 above.
In another positive development for local product distribution—this one at the national level—the 2008 Farm Bill allows schools to show a purchasing preference for “local” options in their food RFPs rather than simply relying on a price evaluation in contractor selection.
Two specific El Dorado County ordinances were sited by interviewees as positively supporting local production. These two ordinances, the “Winery Ordinance” and the “Ranch Marketing Ordinance” Are discussed in detail in Section 5.5 above. Specific language on the ordinances is available on the County’s Agriculture Department website at http://www.co.el-dorado.ca.us/ag/.
Complementary land uses
In terms of county land use policies, some agritourism practitioners mentioned that agritourism operations and large-scale farming are complementary land uses that can be mutually beneficial. For instance, Tony's Farm Stand in Yuba County is surrounded by large orchards of cling peaches that are canned for Del Monte, and the owners feel the long rows of trees are perfect scenery surrounding their farm stand. At the same time, conversations with farm stand employees help customers to understand the history and importance of agriculture in the region.
Policy recommendations for farm-to-institution programs
Aliza Wasserman, Farm-to-Institution Director for CAFF, has developed a list of policy recommendations based on her experience, particularly in the Bay Area, but statewide as well. These recommendations highlight additional opportunities to improve the success of farm to institution programs. A brief summary of some of these recommendations follows:
- Make local food purchasing a part of government-sponsored voluntary green and buy local initiatives. Currently, most sustainable food-related initiatives focus on recycling and, sometimes, composting. Expand these to encourage local food sourcing.
- Encourage government agencies to use their competitive RFP process to preferentially select distributors who partner with organizations that can help to increase local offerings and improve food access in low-income neighborhoods.
- Publicly recognize retailers and institutions that feature the highest level of local food product lines, to demonstrate marketing benefit for their commitment to the region.
- Link permits and public funding of food retailers to local food purchasing criteria. Even modest expectations on retailers—like 10 percent local sourcing—can trigger new incentives for local distributors to begin tracking their data.
- Support Certified Farmers Markets with regular marketing efforts and food security and consumer analysis.
- Levy a regulatory fee on fast food and direct these funds towards supporting programs to buy healthier fresh local produce.
- Include local food planning in emergency preparedness plans and regional land use planning.
- Build connections between local food and climate action planning activities. As all communities work to address the state’s global warming legislation (AB32), the distance that food travels will likely be seen as an important greenhouse gas reduction issue.
Ideas for Innovations
Interviewees mentioned new models and best practices that include both regional projects and some from farther afield. They included:
- Soil Born Farms, an urban farm in Sacramento County, is often held up as a successful model of linking local food production with community education and food accessibility in low income neighborhoods. This nonprofit model could be expanded upon.
- Capay Valley Growers has developed a successful farm-to-corporate site model, currently using 12 farms to supply multiple corporations with local, healthy products.
- There is a desire to expand the number of sites that offer both production and distribution, such as the Old Sugar Mill in the SACOG region, or the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes.
- Existing entities can re-organize to fill a niche. The presence of a large number of food coops in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota led the Wedge Coop to step in and centralize distribution, becoming a supplier of local products to other coops.
- Develop more multi-farm CSAs, which will offer more product options to the buyer and increase interest in this form of produce purchasing.
- Farm-to-school programs could be funded by securing money from parcel taxes to support cafeteria staffing.
Elevate the Understanding of the Overall Economic Development Impacts of Local Food
Supporting the local food system is also supporting small business expansion. Although this idea can be applied to other areas of the system, agritourism practitioners in particular noted their entrepreneurial spirit. They have been able to get creative about maximizing their profitability on smaller parcels of land, diversifying income streams, and continually testing new angles for their farms even after experiencing some failures. This is an essential part of being successful at agritourism, and the SACOG region has a rich fabric of people that are already fitting this bill.
Lastly, the local food industry already employs many people within the SACOG region and results in economic growth that is not easily quantified, but certainly provides an important benefit to the region’s smaller communities. The six-county Sacramento area has the opportunity to expand its understanding of the economic development benefits attributable to this part of our agricultural makeup.
Appendix A - Consumption
Estimating Consumption Using Regional and National Statistics
We used estimates for both the total U.S. food supply and surveys of dietary intake in order to study food consumption patterns. The total food supply is estimated by the USDA at the national level as the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data, which is a record of all food produced in the country, adjusted for imports and exports and divided by total population. In order to estimate food consumption by studying reported diets, several large-scale surveys of dietary intake are administered at the national level. We used the Food Commodity Intake Database (FCID), which records respondents’ region of residence; we used data for residents in the Western U.S. Comparison of the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data and the Food Commodity Intake Database shows a large difference. Other researchers comparing estimates of the food supply and dietary surveys have found similar discrepancies.
There are no food supply estimates or dietary surveys specific to the SACOG region at the level of detail offered by these national and regional studies, so we have chosen to base our estimates of food consumption in the region on these datasets, which are administered consistently and updated regularly. These data should be reasonably representative of patterns in the six counties.
Each data set we used to compare consumption and production (the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data, the FCID, and the County Agriculture Commissioners’ crop reports) employs a slightly different classification system for sorting commodities into food groups. To facilitate comparison of consumption and production numbers, we reclassified each commodity listed in our consumption data to conform to the categories used in the crop reports, adding a few additional categories to cover consumption data for commodities not reported by the Agriculture Commissioners.
Differences in maximum consumption numbers when aggregating by food group or commodity-by-commodity are due to how the maximum numbers were chosen: when aggregating by food group, whichever overall food group estimate was the highest was chosen as the “maximum” estimate for that food group, so if one commodity aggregated into that food group had a much higher consumption estimate in one dataset than in all the others, that dataset would be chosen as the maximum estimate. Aggregating commodity-by-commodity allowed us to work at a finer level of detail and choose a maximum estimate for each individual commodity.
TABLE A.1: CONSUMPTION: Estimated Annual Consumption by SACOG Region Cities (in thousands of tons)
TABLE A.2: CONSUMPTION: Annual SACOG Region Commodity Consumption and Production (in tons)
Appendix B - Distribution
TABLE B.1: DISTRIBUTION: Food and Agriculture Businesses in the City of Sacramento
TABLE B.2: DISTRIBUTION: SACOG Region Food Distribution -- 2002 Economic Census Data
TABLE B.3: DISTRIBUTION: El Dorado County Food Distribution -- 2002 Economic Census Data
TABLE B.4: DISTRIBUTION: Placer County Food Distribution -- 2002 Economic Census Data
TABLE B.5: DISTRIBUTION: Sacramento County Food Distribution -- 2002 Economic Census Data
TABLE B.6: DISTRIBUTION: Sutter County Food Distribution -- 2002 Economic Census Data
TABLE B.7: DISTRIBUTION: Yolo County Food Distribution -- 2002 Economic Census Data
TABLE B.8: DISTRIBUTION: Yuba County Food Distribution -- 2002 Economic Census Data
TABLE B.9: DISTRIBUTION: Local Food Source Lists
TABLE B.10: DISTRIBUTION: Wholesalers
TABLE B.11: DISTRIBUTION: Retail Distribution Centers
TABLE B.12: DISTRIBUTION: Food Banks
Appendix C - Marketing Connections
TABLE C.1: MARKETING CONNECTIONS: Exemplary Marketing Connectors
Appendix D – Agritourism
Table D.1: Benefits and Costs of an Agritourism and Nature Tourism Enterprise
TABLE D.2: AGRI-TOURISM: Contributing interviews with local agritourism practitioners
TABLE D.3: AGRI-TOURISM: Resource List
El Dorado County
- Fair Play Wine Association
- Apple Hill Growers
- El Dorado County Farm Trails
- El Dorado Christmas Tree Growers
- El Dorado County Agriculture Department
- 49er Fruit and Christmas Tree Lane
- Mountain Mandarins Growers Association
- Placer Valley Tourism
- Placer County Agriculture Department