Farmers and Food Artisans Gather for a Taste of Possibilities to Come
By Julia Van Soelen Kim, North Bay Food Systems Advisor
On November 3, 80 farmers, food artisans, agricultural support organizations and representatives from Sonoma County agencies gathered to attend an all-day workshop entitled Taste the Possibilities: Adding Value to Your Ag Business, held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Attendees were interested in learning the ins and outs of creating small-batch and artisanal “value-added” products featuring locally grown fruits and vegetables. Value-added production is an emerging food trend with the potential to help grow the local economy and support farmers’ livelihoods. Producers can accomplish this by tapping new revenue streams from preserving the peak of harvest and farm seconds which may otherwise go to waste.
The workshop opened with a warm welcome from Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt (District 2) and Supervisor Shirlee Zane (District 3), and thoughtful facilitation from Joseph McIntyre with Ag Innovations Network. These leaders “built a foundation of trust, care and urgency for the work, resulting in a productive and energizing day for the audience and presenters alike,” explained Pamela Swan with Sonoma County’s Department of Health Services.
The day highlighted inspiring success stories, smart insights from local experts and practical information on sourcing local produce, using commercial kitchens and co-packers, obtaining the right permits and registrations, and leveraging best practices in business planning and marketing. Participants also learned about new and emerging opportunities for value-added production including Cottage Food Operations, which allow individuals to prepare and package certain non-potentially hazardous foods in home kitchens, and a recent Sonoma County code change facilitating small-scale agriculture processing on farms.
Participants left the day feeling inspired to try something new and better informed to increase their chances for success. Key takeaways for farmers interested in becoming value-added producers included:
- Choosing the right food facility to meet production needs. There are a variety of options available to make value-added food products including becoming a Cottage Food Operation, renting a commercial kitchen and using the services of a co-packer. Each comes with its own unique costs and benefits.
- Finding the right industry experts to help ensure success. Specialty foods consultants can help market products and get them on store shelves. Co-packers can help small producers scale up to meet growing demand. Both can help free up farmers’ time so they can focus on farming.
- Getting connected with local marketing tools and resources. The local Economic Development Board and Small Business Development Center can help new producers determine if there is a market for their product and connect them with innovative ideas about the best way to promote their new creations.
- Leveraging the power of local. Utilizing local marketing initiatives and local branding campaigns can help give small-scale value-added producers an advantage, get products on store shelves, and attract consumers’ attention (i.e. Go Local, Made Local & Sonoma brand).
The workshop was offered as part of the “Opportunities in Ag Business” series presented by UC Cooperative Extension and Sonoma County Department of Health Services. It was generously sponsored by American Ag Credit. The workshop complemented the work of the Sonoma County Food System Alliance and helped move the goals of the Food Action Plan forward, the countywide vision for a vibrant local food system.