North Yuba Grown
We are a non-profit California Corporation dedicated to supporting and promoting local agriculture within our rural community. The organization was started at a very special moment in local history when several related elements were converging in about April of 2012:
- Local folks decided we wanted convenient sources for good, healthy food
- Local farmers and ranchers were speaking out against barriers to their success
- Agritourism appeared on the horizon as a marketing strategy to bring economic success to rural America
We were inspired by visits to our area by Bob McFarland and Joanne Neft. Bob is the president of the California State Grange. He spoke with us about what the Grange offers small farmers and inspired us to look for guidance and assistance in the private sector, beyond the state and local governments. Joanne Neft, founder of the first foothills farmers market and inventor of Placer Grown, came and toured our farms, hosted our first community town hall, and became a mentor to us. She inspired us to cook and serve in our homes what is in season. This notion, by itself, supports and promotes local agriculture. Our little uprising was demanding to be organized into a community group.
Even before we came together, there were promising signs from the community. The Brownsville Farmers Market had started modestly in the summer of 2006 with 6 vendor stands. Gradually, the market evolved into the largest outdoor fresh Farmers’ Market in Yuba County. This last summer we averaged 19 vendors each Saturday and of those, 8 are local county certified farms selling products picked on their property. We also have 2 bakers, 2 hand-made soap vendors, an olive oil producer, a coffee roaster, an herb-vinegar producer, and a fresh egg vendor. The market grows every year as the local residents and weekend visitors discover the broad product assortment, affordable prices, and terrific health value. The Brownsville Farmers Market is an example of a free market. If you grew the produce, you are invited without regard to how many other vendors sell something similar. We believe that market managers who try to artificially control the market by excluding otherwise reputable vendors risk that the prices are high and the quality is low. The Brownsville Farmers Market opens in mid-June and lasts through the summer end, closing the Saturday after Labor Day.
The Grange Farmers Market in Dobbins is another popular venue for locally-grown food. With both a summer outdoor location and a winter indoor location, this market is available year-round. With abundant winter produce, we cook and serve squash soups, baked root vegetables, and other off-season delights. Instead of tomatoes, we use other red vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes in the cooler months.
In 2012, California began to loosen the restrictions on Farm Stands and other small farm economic opportunities. Farmers are now allowed to sell fresh produce from their property, in their own farm stand, with no permits. In addition, AB1616 became law. This allows farmers to process their fresh orchards and gardens into canned products that can be sold in the off-season. Our farmers began to offer value-added processed foods, such as jams and jellies and pickled vegetables, even though they were made in a farm kitchen. The watershed moment came when one of our group was permitted to open a farm store on property that was not commercially zoned, and without having to pay for the very expensive temporary use permit. Now, we had our own year-round foodie store in the neighborhood. In addition, our local small grocers began selling locally grown food purchased from North Yuba farmers. This rising tide that floats all boats also provided a new retail fresh market, aptly named Yuba Harvest, opening in the spring of 2014. Yuba Harvest is a retail fruit and vegetable market, as well as a tasting venue that supports the local wineries, olive oil producers, and honey farmers.
Agritourism is a strategy for farmers and ranchers to benefit financially from tourists. Without building a single new housing development, we are blessed with more local buyers, here for the weekend in their RV or camping, who are on the same wavelength as we are with healthy food. The strategy was quickly internalized by our now expanding band of foodies. North Yuba Grown was founded largely as an Agritourism marketing vehicle that would support and promote local agriculture.
With several local wineries, all interested in selling more wine, the Agritourism tactics became obvious – “Draw the visitors with the romance of wine and olive oil, then serve them locally grown meals using ingredients from local meat and produce that they would not forget. North Yuba Grown launched a dual initiative, the Wine, Food, Art Lunch Program and the Farm to Fork Dinner Program. For lunch, folks could taste the local wine along with their sandwich, bruschetta, or hamburger, all made with local ingredients. For dinner, visitors and local residents alike could treat themselves to a glorious five course meal of local food with wine paired accompaniment, right on the farm. It was a magical thing to witness as the foodie band came together, acting out their new roles as ticket sellers, event promoters, sous-chefs, and waiters.
This summer, the California Department of Food and Agriculture put us on the map, agriculturally speaking. With a CDFA grant, we have recently developed a Farm Trail Map for our region that showcases the local producers and product outlets, including wineries, olive oil farms, farmers markets, stores, and fruit and vegetable farms. We included the local lodging establishments also, so folks would know where to stay after a day touring. The map is now available, and instead of drawing pictures on the back of our business cards, we are able to politely hand the map to our new visitor friends, embellishing the tour with our own stories. We are true believers in Agritourism.
Recent initiatives have developed a better connection between the local residents and their food sources. Our local Yuba Environmental Science Charter Academy invited North Yuba Grown to provide fresh ingredients for the children’s school lunches. This project came together in October of 2013, with weekly deliveries on Monday morning. Do kids eat salads? The school principal, Kathy Smith, related this to the Appeal-Democrat newspaper in an article about the school lunch program: “We used to have the store-bought iceberg with a little romaine. They didn’t really eat it. Now, with these amazing greens, the kids just eat it up. We’re having it every day now.”
The school lunch program has expanded in 2014 to include four key farms providing year-round produce. The Grimm Farm in Loma Rica, Ridgetop Garden in Brownsville, Robertson Family Farm in Marysville, and Spring Valley Strawberry Farm in Browns Valley are the key contributors to the school lunch program. Olive Oil comes from Bisonte Olivo in Loma Rica, the budding bison and olive ranch. The work-in-progress crop planner calendar worked out with the school gives the farms a roadmap to children’s food preferences over the seasons.
Another new initiative is connecting the local farms to the restaurants in Yuba City and Marysville. A team of 8 farmers met in February 2014 with the manager of a popular new fresh food restaurant in Yuba City. The manager explained the commitment of the restaurant to locally grown food and to local farmers. He challenged us to develop the logistics necessary to synchronize a restaurant’s appetite for fresh food with the output of the farms. We have some growing-up to do, and hope to be a part of this in the near future.
We hope you have enjoyed this little overview of North Yuba Grown. Our vision is to continue to develop initiatives that will support and promote local agriculture. This involves listening intently to our farmers and local consumers and developing those common ideas around which we can all gather. We have developed some guidelines:
Rule #1: Learn to cook and serve what is in season.
Rule #2: Don’t pick winners. Offer a broad selection and let the customer decide.
Rule #3: Develop alternate year-round sales venues for local farmers
Rule #4: Give your farmers a roadmap for popular crops in your area
Rule #5: Provide a forum for farmers to meet and discuss techniques and opportunities
Gary Hawthorne, Chairman
North Yuba Grown
P.O. Box 272
Oregon House, CA 95962