UC program matches small farmers with large wholesalers

07/16/2013 04:22:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

pang eng changCourtesy University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education ProgramProgram participant Pang Eng Chang grows jujube, guavas, papaya and citrus on 15 acres of orchard and greenhouses near Fresno, Calif.The University of California and three financial institutions are playing matchmaker by introducing small-scale farmers to conventional distributors interested in selling locally grown food.

The program, called the Small and Ethnic Farmer Market Tour Project, is run by the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, according to a news release.

It is funded by CoBank, Farm Credit West, American AgCredit and Farm Credit Services of Colusa-Glenn.

Farm advisors and Cooperative Extension specailists identify small, specialty crop growers in their areas, many of whom are Hmong, Mien and Latino.

They are invited on a bus tour to terminal markets, produce houses or processing facilities where they meet face to face with distributors who explain their needs.

The program also helps farmers create an action plan for selling their crops as well as a farm profile—a flyer describing who they are and what they grow.

“Workshops and field days are great education tools, but nothing makes markets happen as well as simply introducing a willing seller to a willing buyer and then stepping out of the way,” David Visher, an analyst with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, said in the release. “We help growers tell their stories and make good-value propositions to buyers, but it’s really up to these business people to make their own deals.”

Sometimes growers have to join forces so they have enough volume to sell to wholesale buyers.

Heath & Lejeune Inc., a certified organic wholesaler in Commerce, Calif., participated in the program.

“Our firm knows firsthand that some of these small farmers will become important suppliers in the future and it is in our interest to help them know how to do business at our level," David Weinstein, sales manager, said in the release.

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