My sisters and I hosted the 3rd Farmer’s Brunch at zazu today. The topic of the meeting was the Farm to Institution initiative being sponsored by the Sonoma County Health Department. We welcomed the directors of Santa Rosa City Schools food program, Memorial Hospital Food Program, and their food buyers. Farmer’s in attendance were both large and small, from Gourmet Mushrooms to Silva Star Farms. We also welcomed founding members of the Spiral Foods Co Op, Jana Hill from the Health Department, and Heidi Herman from the California Alliance for Family Farms.
We feasted on Turkey from Felton Acres, Canvas Ranch chard, and stuffing with ingredients from Strong Arm Farm. All of the ingredients and labor were donated by the members of the North Coast Farmer’s Collective, which puts on the brunch. Chef Tara created the meal from what the farmers had available, then Casey and my sisters, Sarah and Elena, helped her prepare it.
I was dismayed by the fact that we had 9 food buyers show up and only 8 farmers. Most of the farmer’s I talk to are focused on selling direct to the consumer, because they can make the most profit. These consumers tend to be upper-middle class, and they occupy a relatively small slice of society. Currently there are lots of small farmers competing for this small segment of the market. Farmer’s Markets are innudated with high-priced produce, meanwhile the directors of local school and hospital programs can’t find one farmer willing to contract with them. In my mind, the wealthy consumer is low hanging fruit, and farmers may have to increase the scale of their operations to find other outlets for their produce. Finding wholesale outlets will end up saving them a ton of work on the retail end. Farmers, I implore you, let’s work together to scale up and bring fresh local produce into the schools and hospitals, to the sick and underpriviledged who need it most.